What Is Considered Sexual Assault?

what is sexual assault - male with handcuffed hands

What Is Considered Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is an extremely serious charge in the state of Arizona. A person found guilty of sexual assault faces not only a felony conviction on their record, but also placement on the sex offender registry. These penalties can impact a person’s life forever, affecting their ability to find employment as well as housing. 

Let’s talk further about what qualifies as sexual assault and the possible defenses for a person facing this type of charge. 

What defines sexual assault?  

Arizona statute ARS 13-1406 says a person commits sexual assault if they intentionally or knowingly engage in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent

Here’s an example to further explain the Arizona court’s sexual assault definition. A young man at an Arizona college is at his first fraternity party. During the party, he and some of his soon-to-be fraternity brothers walk into a room and find a girl passed out on a bed. They try to wake her, however, she drank so much alcohol that she is unconscious. The fraternity brothers pressure the college student to engage in sexual acts with the unconscious girl, using the argument “she will never know.” Wanting to impress his friends, the young man complies. 

A few days later, a police officer knocks on the fraternity house’s door. Based on witness testimony and evidence collected at the scene, police arrested the young man on charges of sexual assault. 

What is the penalty for sexual assault in Arizona?

A sexual assault conviction carries a Class 2 felony penalty, which includes time in state prison. According to ARS 13-1406, certain factors determine the amount of sexual assault sentencing:

  • A defendant facing a first-time conviction generally serves seven years in state prison. 
  • If a defendant has prior felony convictions, their prison term increases to anywhere from 10.5 to 28 years. 
  • Sexual assault resulting in serious physical injury to the victim may result in a state prison life sentence. 

Additionally, any person found guilty of sexual assault must register as a sex offender. They are also placed on the Arizona sex offender registry. And, as a convicted felon, they would lose access to a number of benefits and civil liberties

What are possible defenses against a sexual assault crime?

There are a few tactics a criminal defense lawyer may be able to use against a sexual assault charge. These include false accusations, evidence of consent, bad evidence or witness testimony, or proof that sexual intercourse as defined by ARS 13-1406 did not occur. 

False Accusation

Looking back at our earlier example, let’s say the male college student refused to take part in what his fraternity brothers asked him to do. Instead, he left the room and the party. Infuriated, one of the fraternity brothers sexually assaulted the unconscious young woman and then blamed the young man who had left. In this instance, a lawyer could use witness testimony and evidence to show the young man was innocent. 

Consent Was Actually Given

If a criminal defense attorney can prove both parties involved gave consent, then under ARS 13-1406 this would not be a case of sexual assault. In our example, if the young woman was conscious and consented to sexual intercourse with the young man, but then, later on, said he sexually assaulted her, the judge may throw out the case if the lawyer proves the young woman had given consent.

There Was No “Sexual Act”

ARS 13-1406 defines the types of sexual acts involved in a sexual assault charge. If “sexual intercourse” or “oral sexual contact” did not occur as defined by Arizona law, then a judge may drop the charges.  

Bad Evidence or Witness Testimony

Sometimes witnesses lie or become confused. And sometimes police officers mishandle evidence during collection or in a laboratory. All of these instances provide opportunities for a criminal defense attorney to ask for lowered or dropped charges.

Sexual Assault Defense Attorney in Phoenix, Arizona 

Sexual assault is a major offense in Arizona and convictions carry life-changing penalties. If you or a loved one faces sexual assault charges, it’s vital to understand exactly what qualifies as sexual assault and what your defense options are. You will also need a tough criminal defense specialist like Todd Coolidge to advocate on your behalf. Call our offices today at 602-795-0770 in Phoenix or 480-264-5111 in Chandler to schedule a consultation.

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