After a jury finds a defendant guilty of sexual assault, the case goes to the judge for sentencing. Judges rely on several factors to determine a sentence. First, the criminal statutes will usually set a range of punishments for sexual assault. This will often consist of a maximum and minimum prison term, as well as fines and other penalties.
Judges also examine aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding on the exact terms of the sentence. Aggravating factors are those factors such as a defendant's criminal history and the severity of the crime that suggest a need for a harsher punishment. Mitigating factors, on the other hand, support a more lenient sentence. Below, you'll find an overview of the various factors that determine sentencing for sexual assault convictions.
Sexual Assault Sentencing and Penalties: Differences Among the States
Just as every state has its own law concerning sexual assault, every state has a different sentencing scheme in place for people convicted of sexual assault. The federal government also has its own set of sentencing rules.
For example, in California, a sexual assault conviction carries with it a possible sentence of 24, 36, or 48 months in prison, as well as a possible $10,000 fine. This type of sentence is known as "determinate" since it results in a specific term of years in prison. As mentioned above, a judge will examine the facts of the case, including aggravating and mitigating factors, in order to settle on the exact sentence.
In New York, sexual assault constitutes a class D felony. The sentencing judge has discretion to set the sentence, but the law binds the judge to impose a sentence within a certain range. Moreover, the sentence is an "indeterminate" one, which means that the judge doesn't set an exact term. Instead, the judge picks a range of years from in between the absolute minimum and the absolute maximum set by law. The defendant could serve the entire term or just the minimum amount depending on their behavior in prison and other factors. New York law sets the absolute minimum sentence for sexual assault at one to two years and the absolute maximum penalty at seven years. Judges can choose any range that falls within those limits.
In order to learn more about specific sentencing and penalties for sexual assault, consult the laws of the jurisdiction where the conviction took place. Check out FindLaw's State Sexual Assault Laws guide for more information or find answers on our sexual abuse legal answers page.
Federal Sexual Assault Sentencing and Penalties
Federal law directs judges to examine a number of factors, including the defendant's criminal history and his or her acceptance of responsibility, when setting a punishment. The federal law criminalizing sexual assault sets a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and also provides for fines. In addition, federal law provides that those convicted of sexual assault must compensate their victims for any expenses directly related to the crime. This can include costs for medical care, physical or occupational therapy, attorney's fees, and other related expenses.
Getting Legal Help with Your Sexual Assault Case
Sexual assault is a very serious crime with significant penalties. If you've been charged with the crime, you have the constitutional right to legal representation and you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible. After all, an attorney can help to sort out, and challenge, any evidence against you.