Federal Sex Crimes

Both state and federal law prohibit specific sex-related crimes and in many cases, an offender’s actions violate both Florida law and federal law. In these situations, a defendant can be tried in both state court and federal court, although federal penalties tend to be much harsher and also usually require a defendant to register on the national sex offender registry. When a person’s sexual crimes cross state lines, they are almost always charged in federal court.

Sex Offenses Involving Children

Federal law prohibits the production, reception, possession, and distribution of child pornography affecting or using any means of interstate commerce. For example, under 18 U.S.C. 2252, anyone who knowingly uses any means or facility of interstate commerce, which includes computers and the mail system, to send a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct faces a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years. This includes a prohibition against receiving, distributing, reproducing, or intending to sell any such material that has been mailed or shipped.

Even possessing or accessing with the intent to view one or more books, magazines, films, or other pornographic material involving a minor that has been shipped or mailed, or which was produced using materials that were transported in interstate commerce, can result in up to ten years in prison. However, if the minor is under the age of 12 years old, or the defendant has previously been convicted of a child pornography-related offense, the sentence can be increased to 20 years.

Coercing, inducing, persuading, or enticing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purposes of producing a photo, film, or other visual depiction is also punishable under federal law 18 U.S.C. 2251, by a minimum of 15 years in prison.

Finally, federal law strictly prohibits engaging in a sexual act with:
  • Someone who has reached the age of 12 years old, but has not yet turned 16 years old
  • Someone who is at least four years younger than the other party
Those who violate 18 U.S.C. 2243 face up to 15 years in prison for each count. However, a defendant is permitted to raise the defense that he or she reasonably believed that the other party had reached the age of 16 years old.

Federal Rape/Sexual Assault Charges

Under federal law, a person can be charged with rape if he or she committed a sexual act upon another person by:
  • Using unlawful force against the victim
  • Using force that was likely to cause bodily harm to the victim
  • Threatening the victim with bodily harm, death, or kidnapping
  • Rendering the victim unconscious
  • Administering the victim a drug or intoxicant in order to impair his or her judgment or decision making
A person has used force against someone else if he or she:
  • Used a weapon
  • Used physical strength or violence to overcome, restrain, or injure the victim
  • Inflicted physical harm severe enough to compel submission by the victim
However, to qualify as a sexual act, an action must satisfy the following definition:
  • Contact between the penis and the mouth, anus, or vulva
  • The penetration of the vulva, mouth, or anus by any body part or object with the intent to abuse the victim or to arouse or gratify sexual desire
Federal law, 10 U.S.C. 920 also forbids sexual assault, which is defined as the committing of a sexual act upon another person by:
  • Threatening him or her
  • Causing him or her bodily harm
  • Fraudulently stating that the sexual act serves a professional purpose
  • Making him or her believe through concealment or artifice that the assailant is another person
A sexual assault also occurs when someone commits a sexual act upon another person when:
  • He or she knows that the victim is unconscious, asleep, or unaware that the sexual act is occurring
  • The victim is incapable of consenting to the sexual act as a result of impairment by any drug or intoxicant or due to a mental disease, defect, or physical disability
Consent means a freely given agreement by a competent person. If a victim expressed a lack of consent through words or conduct, then no consent was given. However, just because a person did not physically or verbally resist, does not mean that he or she has consented to the contact if the assailant used force, threatened force, or placed the victim in fear. Furthermore, a current or previous relationship does not constitute consent, even if that relationship was sexual in nature. Finally, those who are unconscious, sleeping, or incompetent are incapable of giving their consent.
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