Most crimes by law cannot be prosecuted if a certain period of time has elapsed between the time of the incident and the time the victim reports the incident. This is referred to as the “statute of limitations.” For the most serious types of sexual assault (first and second degree), the statute of limitations is 15 years. For third- and fourth-degree sexual assault, the statute of limitations is 10 years.
Sexual assault is a serious crime that is aggressively prosecuted in the District of Columbia. To understand what conduct constitutes sex assault, the District of Columbia Code sets out four degrees of behavior. D.C. Code 22-3002 defines first degree sexual assault and provides a maximum penalty for the crime at life imprisonment.
Typically, the applicable statute of limitations depends on the alleged behavior. The statute makes a distinction between engaging in a sex act and engaging in sexual touching. A sex act typically involves penetration (however slight) of the anus or vagina by the mouth, finger, or genitals. Sexual contact, however, just involves a sexual touching any clothed or unclothed body part with either the intent to harass, humiliate or degrade the victim or to arouse or gratify the defendant.
As of 2018, the below statute of limitations applies to alleged sex offenses. However, the DC City Council has discussed and debated removing the statute of limitations and may do so in the future.
What is First Degree Sexual Assault?
First degree sexual assault is the most serious offense and includes violent rape. For the government to convict someone of first-degree sex assault, it must prove that the defendant caused another to engage in a sex act in one of the following ways:
1. By using force;
2. By threatening death, physical harm, or kidnapping;
3. Causing the person to be unconscious;
4. Or drugging a person without their knowledge or by force or threat of force
The court will also look at aggravating circumstances to impose a sentence of more than 30 years if the defendant is convicted. Aggravating circumstances involve the following:
1. The victim was under 12;
2. The victim was under 18 and the defendant had a “significant relationship” with the victim;
3. The victim was seriously injured;
4. 1 or more accomplice helped the defendant;
5. The defendant has previously convicted for committing sex offenses against 2 or more people;
6. The defendant had a firearm or dangerous or deadly weapon during the offense
The Court may also consider, among other factors, in imposing a sentence greater than 30 years in prison including whether the offense was motivated by a discriminatory intent. Again, the statute of limitations for first degree sexual assault is 15 years.
What is Second Degree Sexual Assault?
Second degree sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and typically involves what some may refer to as “date rape.” The government can charge second degree sexual assault where violence or threat of violence occurs. However, its commonly used in situations where the victim cannot understand the conduct, is incapable of saying no, or incapable of not participating in the sex act. A typical allegation for second degree sex assault would involve an individual claiming the other person engaged in a sexual act with them despite the fact they were passed out or completely intoxicated. The statute of limitations for second degree sex assault is also 15 years.
What is Third Degree Sexual Assault?
Third degree sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail. Like first and second, the conduct could involve force, the threat of force, or the person being totally intoxicated. However, third degree sexual assault does not require a sexual act only “sexual contact.” A common scenario of third-degree sexual assault would be an individual groping a passed-out person’s genitals. There is also a requirement that the defendant intended to abuse or humiliate the victim or arouse or sexual gratify themselves. The statute of limitations for third degree sexual assault is 10 years.
What is Fourth Degree Sexual Assault?
Fourth degree sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail. It is also a felony. It has the same elements as third-degree sex assault. However, it does not require actual force or threat of force just that a person has a “reasonable fear” or any type of injury.
Sexual assault is a serious offense. Its important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you or someone you know has been accused of sexual assault. At Scrofano Law PC, we handle sex assault cases and investigations. Contact us today for a full case evaluation.
National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and their Loved Ones, Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)