An accusation of any of numerous types of sex offenses in Washington State can have a significant impact on a person’s life and livelihood. A conviction can lead to jail time and registration as a sex offender. Like any other alleged criminal offense, prosecutors in sex offense cases must prove the elements of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Understanding the facts and circumstances a prosecutor must prove is essential to defending against a sex offense charge. As a sex crimes attorney experienced in defending Washington citizens against sex offenses, here are some of the frequently asked questions we have encountered.
What sort of conduct could be considered a sex offense?
The category of “sex offense” under Washington law covers a wide range of offenses, but most involve sexual intercourse or sexual contact in some form. “Sexual intercourse” has its generally-accepted meaning in Washington’s criminal statutes, but it may also include other forms of penetration, by genitals or a foreign object, regardless of the gender of the people involved.
“Sexual contact” refers to any other touching of a person’s “sexual or other intimate parts” by another person, specifically for the purpose of causing someone’s sexual gratification. The alleged sexual gratification could be of either person or someone else.
What does lack of consent mean under sex offense laws?
Lack of consent is a key element of many Washington sex offenses. This often refers to an alleged victim’s stated lack of consent, either through words or actions, but it can also include an alleged victim who cannot legally consent due to mental or developmental disability, intoxicated or other impaired state, or age. The use or threat of force or injury is a common component of a charge of rape or sexual assault. It is not necessary to prove the actual use of force or actual injury to an alleged victim, but rather that a defendant proceeded to engage in the conduct without consent.
The issue of capacity comes up when an alleged victim is below the “age of consent.” In Washington, this age varies depending on the relative age of the defendant. An alleged victim’s capacity is an issue in cases where a defendant is in certain positions of authority that would affect the ability to give informed consent, such as a doctor-patient relationship. In many cases, a person with developmental or mental disabilities, or a person impaired by alcohol, may legally lack the ability to give consent.
What defenses are available?
Defending against a sex offense charge involves challenging the evidence presented by the prosecution and presenting evidence in support of the defendant, just like in other types of criminal cases. This may include challenging the allegation that sexual conduct occurred, or that it occurred in the manner described by the prosecution.
Washington law allows specific defenses to certain charges. In cases where the alleged victim’s lack of mental capacity or physical inability to resist is the key element of the prosecution, a defendant may present proof by a preponderance of evidence that, when the offense allegedly occurred, the defendant had a reasonable belief that the alleged victim was not impaired. In cases where the alleged victim’s age is a factor, it is explicitly not a defense that the defendant believed the alleged victim to be older, except if the defendant shows, by a preponderance of evidence, a reasonable belief that the alleged victim was within a specified age range of the defendant. This age range depends on the alleged offense.
Will I have to register as a sex offender?
The duty to register with the state as a sex offender is automatic for most sex offenses in Washington upon conviction, although judges have some discretion to limit or rescind the obligation. Defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are also obligated to register. The length of registration could be for a specified term of years or an indefinite period. A defendant may petition for relief from the duty to register under certain circumstances.
If you have been charged with an alleged sex offense in Lakewood, Bellevue or elsewhere in western Washington, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help. We have protected the rights of defendants in criminal cases throughout Washington and obtained substantially reduced sentences, acquittals, and dismissals for our clients. Contact us today online or at 888-212-4824 for a confidential case evaluation.