Sexual Assault Laws in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania has a variety of laws that prohibit criminal sexual assault. These laws define criminal conduct and the potential penalties that can arise if a person is convicted of a sexual assault offense. Understanding the nature of the charges against a defendant is integral to protecting oneís legal rights.

Sexual Assault

Pennsylvania law defines sexual assault as engaging in sexual intercourse of deviate sexual intercourse without the consent of the other party. This crime is charged as a second degree felony.

Indecent Assault

This conduct is considered a crime when a person has indecent contact with the victim with the intent to arouse sexual desire in either party and is performed without the victimís consent. It is a crime committed forcibly or under the threat of force in such a way that the party could reasonably expect that the defendant would use such force. Alternatively, it can be charged as an offense if the victim was severely incapacitated, such as having a mental incapacity, being intoxicated, being drugged or being unconscious. Alternatively, this crime can be charged if the victim is under 13 years of age or under 16 years of age with the defendant being at least four years older than the victim.

Criminal Penalties for Sexual Assault

The potential penalties vary depending on the charge that the defendant faces and the circumstances surrounding the offense. Sexual assault is considered a second degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. A large fine can also be imposed on the defendant. The amount of the fine is at the discretion of the court and is based on the severity of the offense.

Indecent assault is considered a first or second degree misdemeanor, depending on the specific nature of the offense. The defendantís criminal history is also a relevant factor, and if the defendant has committed a previous sexual offense or has a pattern of sexually deviant behavior, he or she may be charged with a third degree felony. This crime is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Rape is the most serious sexual offense. This crime carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a fine up to $25,000.

Defendants who are convicted of sexual assault, rape or other sex crimes usually have to register as a sex offender. This registration is generally known to the public and can severely limit a defendantís ability to find work, housing and peace.

Statutory Sexual Assault

Statutory sexual assault is different than other types of sexual assault because the victim actually consents to the act. However, because the victim is of a certain age or other specific condition, his or her consent is not considered valid under state law. The legal age for consent in Pennsylvania is 16 years old. If the person is under this age, having sexual contact with the individual can be considered criminal in nature. A person under this age is considered not to be mentally capable of making decisions regarding sex and cannot provide valid consent.

Statutory rape as sexual intercourse under 16 years of age, even if the person gives consent. The crime can be charged if the other person is at least four years older than the victim. However, there is an exception if the child and other party are married.
Statutory sexual assault may be considered a second degree or first degree felony offense. A person may be charged with a second degree felony if he or she is between four and eight years older than the victim. A second degree offense carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine up to $25,000. A first degree offense can be charged if the defendant is at least 11 years older than the victim. This crime can result in a maximum sentence of twenty years of incarceration and a fine up to $25,000.

Legal Defenses to Sexual Assault

Individuals who are accused of rape or sexual assault may be able to raise several legal defenses. For example, consent may be an available defense in cases in which the victim had the capacity to consent. Mistaken identity may be a defense when the defendant is misidentified. A criminal defendant may have his or her drink spiked and may not have had control over his or her own actions and may assert this set of facts as a defense. A criminal defendant who was legally insane at the time of the offense may use this as a defense. If a judge believes that the defendant was insane, he or she may order counseling or rehabilitation instead of prison time.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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