Rape and Forcible Sex Offense Charges

Rape and forcible sex offenses are among the most aggressively prosecuted and punished sex crimes in North Carolina. Depending on the specific nature of the charges in question, the penalties could include a lengthy prison sentence, a felony conviction, and mandatory participation in the sex offender registration program.

These crimes generally arise when violence or force is used during a sexual act, typically meaning there is a lack of consent by one party to the sexual act. This includes sexual acts with individuals who are legally incapable of consent, such as a child, though those are classified under their own set of crimes, known as statutory sex crimes.

All sex crimes charges must be taken seriously. No matter the circumstances you are facing, our North Carolina sex crimes defense lawyers will investigate your case and determine what needs to be done to protect your best interests. We know how complicated these cases can be.

man handcuffed due to rape accusations

How Does North Carolina Define Rape?

The terms “rape” and “forcible sex offense” may seem redundant but have specific meaning in North Carolina law that differ from some other state law definitions. The following are some key definitions in North Carolina sex offense law:

  • Forcible Rape: While many definitions of rape refer to any sexual intercourse carried out by force and against the victim’s consent; in North Carolina it strictly refers to vaginal intercourse perpetrated by force without consent.
  • Forcible Sex Offense: A forcible sex offense happens when force is used to perpetrate a “sexual act” that is not vaginal intercourse.
  • Sexual Act: Sexual acts include cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus, or anal intercourse, but not vaginal intercourse. It also includes the use of an object to penetrate a person’s anus or genitalia. These acts are the basis for forcible sex offenses that are not considered rape.
  • Sexual Contact: This includes touching another person’s or your own sexual or erogenous body parts (e.g. genitalia, breast, buttocks), or ejaculating on another person. Sexual contact without consent is considered a crime of sexual battery.

The key underlying issue in all forcible sex offenses is that the other party did not agree to or consent to the sexual act. Lack of consent does not only apply to situations where a person declares they do not give consent, as there are circumstances where a person is legally considered unable to consent, including:

  • Mental incapacitation: when a person is incapacitated due to a controlled substance (for medical or non-medical use) or trauma and cannot understand the nature of their conduct or resist a sexual act.
  • Mental disability: when a person has a temporary or permanent intellectual or mental disorder that makes them unable to understand their conduct or unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in a sex act.
  • Physically helpless: when a person is unconscious or otherwise unable to resist a sexual act or communicate their unwillingness to the act.
  • Children 15 years old or younger: the age of consent in North Carolina is 16, meaning that anybody below that age is considered unable to consent to sexual intercourse with an adult, even if they say they agreed to it. For children between 13 and 15 years old, they cannot consent to sexual acts with somebody 6 or more years older. Children under 13 years old are not considered able to consent to any sexual acts.  

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Types of Rape and Forcible Sex Crimes

Forcible sex crimes in North Carolina are either forcible rape or forcible sex offenses, and can be classified as either first or second degree, where a first-degree crime is a more serious offense.

First-Degree Forcible Rape

A person commits first-degree forcible rape when they engage in vaginal intercourse with another person by force, and does any of the following:

  • Uses, threatens to use, or displays a dangerous or deadly weapon or any object that their victim reasonably believes to be a dangerous or deadly weapon.
  • Inflicts serious personal injury upon the victim or another person.
  • The forcible rape was aided or encouraged by one or more other persons.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class B1 felony. If a child is born resulting from the rape, the person convicted of rape has no rights related to the child, including custody or inheritance.

Second-Degree Forcible Rape

A person commits second-degree forcible rape when they engage in vaginal intercourse with another person, such that:

  • The intercourse was done by force and against the other person’s will, or
  • The other person could not consent due to mental disability, mental incapacitation or physical helplessness, and the person committing the act should have reasonably known of the other person’s inability to consent.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class C felony. As with rape in the first-degree, if a child is born resulting from the rape, the convicted person has no rights related to that child.

First-Degree Forcible Sexual Offense

A person commits a first-degree forcible sex offense when they engage in any sexual act other than vaginal intercourse with another person by force, and does any of the following:

  • Uses, threatens to use, or displays a dangerous or deadly weapon or any object that their victim reasonably believes to be a dangerous or deadly weapon.
  • Inflicts serious personal injury upon the victim or another person.
  • The forcible rape was aided or encouraged by one or more other persons.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class B1 felony.

Second-Degree Forcible Sexual Offense

A person commits a second-degree forcible sex offense when they engage in any sexual act other than vaginal intercourse such that:

  • The intercourse was done by force and against the other person’s will, or
  • The other person could not consent due to mental disability, mental incapacitation or physical helplessness, and the person committing the act should have reasonably known of the other person’s inability to consent.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class C felony.

Federal Charges for Rape and Sexual Assault

In general, federal prosecutors go after sexual abuse and rape crimes that involve children, especially cyber child exploitation crimes such as child pornography charges, or charges involving sex trafficking, especially when it happens across state or country lines. Most of the time rape and sexual assault cases are dealt with at the state level, unless the offense occurs in federal territory, such as in federal prisons or military bases.

Federal law does, however, have a provision regarding the failure to register as a sex offender, under 18 U.S.C § 2250. Under this law, if you are required to register as a sex offender, as you would be for a conviction of rape, but knowingly fail to do so, you can face a fine, imprisonment up to 10 years, or both. This crime is typically punished in cases where a person travels to a different state or country and fails to register themselves under their new residence.

Defending Against Rape Charges

In a sex offense case, as in other criminal cases, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. This means proving that you did engage in the sexual act as an aggressor who violated the other person’s consent. It is essential that you hire an experienced attorney, as these cases are not treated lightly, and law enforcement, judges and juries can be heavily biased against certain people accused of these crimes.

Part of building a solid defense is understanding the specific factors involved and knowing what kinds of approaches may or may not be valid.

The following are not valid defenses:

  • Being the victim’s spouse at the time of committing the act is not a defense against alleged rape or sexual offenses.
  • Claiming that the victim consented when they were determined to be incapacitated or otherwise incapable or understanding their conduct (e.g. due to mental disability) is not a valid defense.

Some valid defenses, depending on the case, include:

  • Malicious false allegations and testimony from the victim(s) or witness(es)
  • Mistaken identity of a suspect
  • Poor chain of custody for handling evidence, such as DNA evidence samples.
  • Unfavorable bias from law enforcement or prosecutors on the basis of the defendant’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; or bias in favor of the alleged victim on the basis of any of those factors.

Request a Consultation with Tarlton | Polk Sex Crime Attorneys

If you are facing false charges, our criminal defense lawyers are prepared to fight aggressively so that you can clear your reputation. Defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and you should not be held responsible for a crime that you did not commit.

Our legal team also understands that, in some cases, the best defense strategy is to focus on reducing the penalties that our client is facing. Ultimately, our sex offense attorneys always give each case the individualized attention that it deserves.

 

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