There are several defenses to counter a charge of sexual assault. Defendants in any criminal prosecution will usually claim they are innocent. That is no different for a sexual assault case.
Sexual assault defendants may admit to performing the actions that form the basis of but claim that they were not criminal because the alleged victim consented to the behavior. Other defendants might admit that they committed the criminal acts but argue that they were not responsible for their behavior because of mental incapacity.
Sexual Assault Defenses: Innocence
In a sexual assault case, the most basic defense is a claim of actual innocence. A defendant may argue that they could not have committed the crime because they were in a different location at the time the alleged crime took place. This is commonly known as presenting an "alibi." In order to mount an effective defense based on an alibi, the defendant must show credible evidence proving they were not with the victim at the time the crime took place.
For example, if Adam is accused of sexual assault arising out of events in New York on March 1, he can present evidence to the court that he was actually in Los Angeles on that day. Typically, the evidence provided to the court would include hotel receipts, plane tickets, credit card bills and witness corroborations.
Defendants can also claim that the victim has misidentified them as the perpetrator. Just like with the presentation of an alibi, the defendant must provide evidence to support this claim. If available, DNA evidence can accurately and reliably establish whether a defendant was present at the crime scene.
The prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant can raise a reasonable doubt as to whether he or she actually committed the crime, a jury should return an acquittal.
Sexual Assault Defenses: Consent
Sometimes defendants in a sexual assault case will admit to the behavior in question but still argue that the victim's consent negates the charges. One of the elements of sexual assault is that the sexual behavior must occur against the alleged victim's will. If the defendant, therefore, can demonstrate that the victim consented to the sexual contact, there is a solid defense to the allegations of sexual assault.
Proving consent can be both difficult and even controversial for the defendant. Defendants often cannot provide direct evidence of consent without testifying and subjecting themselves to cross-examination. In the past, the defense would try to use the victim's past sexual history as a way to suggest the victim gave consent for the sexual activities. This could sometimes backfire with a jury and cast the defendant in a negative light. Today, this tactic is not allowed by most judges and has fallen out of favor within the courts.
In certain cases, consent is legally impossible. When the victim is a minor, incapacitated, or mentally challenged and incapable of understanding the sexual nature of the behavior, it is impossible for the victim to consent to the activity.
Standards to Establish Consent
States differ on the level of awareness that a defendant must have concerning the victim's inability to consent. In other words, if the defendant argues that they honestly believed that a minor victim was past the age of consent, different state laws hold that claim to different standards.
The vast majority of states have a strict liability standard. This means defendants simply cannot argue that they did not realize the victim was incapable of consent. In these states, if the victim was incapable of consenting, no amount of good faith belief in the victim's consent will work as a sexual assault defense.
Still other states allow defendants to make a claim of mistaken consent as long as the defendant did not act recklessly in overlooking evidence of the victim's inability to consent. If the defendant did not act in a wildly irresponsible manner, they can attempt to claim an honest belief that the victim gave consent.
Sexual Assault Defenses: Insanity or Mental Incapacity
Defendants in a sexual assault case can sometimes claim that they had a mental disease or defect at the time of the crime that should remove criminal liability for their actions. Different states apply different forms of the insanity defense. Most states will treat an offender more leniently upon a showing that their mental disease or defect prevented them from understanding the criminal nature of their actions.
Thus, if a mentally challenged individual lacks the ability to fully understand what they were doing at the time of an alleged assault, the defense might have an effective argument for mental incapacity.
Charged with Sexual Assault? Contact an Attorney
Sexual assault charges have serious consequences. If you or someone you love has been accused of sexual assault, you likely have questions about your legal options. Or perhaps you need to understand more about mandatory sex-offender registration laws. Contact a local sex crimes defense attorney who can answer your questions and help defend your rights.