Within the realm of criminal law, sex offenses are among the most serious offenses an individual can be charged with for several reasons. Accusations involving a sex offense will forever scar both the alleged perpetrator and victim. If convicted, the potential penalties, both judicial and non-judicial, for a sex offense can be harsh. If the crime gets media attention, everyone involved can expect to live in a fish bowl until the case is resolved. If you have been accused of a sex offense, it is imperative that you understand what you are facing, both in the courtroom and out. Because attitudes about sex crimes have changed considerably over the last several decades, so have many of the sex offense statutes and potential penalties. Consequently, both victims and defendants frequently feel confused. One question we are often asked is “Is a sex offense considered a violent crime?” Why does that matter? It can matter because violent crimes are treated differently in the judicial system and the penalties for conviction of a violent crime are typically harsher. Unfortunately, it is not a simple question nor is there a simple answer; however, whether you are a victim or a defendant it may benefit you to learn more about how the law defines violent crimes and where sex offenses fit into that definition.
“Violent Crime” Defined
The term “violent crime” is one of those terms that we all think we can define, until we are asked to do so. Some crimes are clearly violent in nature. For example, if someone beats an elderly woman with a baseball bat for no apparent reason, we would all agree that is a violent crime. At the other end of the spectrum, someone hacking into a computer and stealing a victim’s identity is a crime that would all agree is not a violent crime. What about all the criminal offenses that fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum? Are they violent crimes? To answer that question, we need a definition for the term “violent crime.” We can start with the definition used by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program which defines violent crime as:
“violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.”
We can also look to the federal definition found at 18 U.S. Code § 16 which defines a “crime of violence” as follows:
(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or
(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.
Does a Sex Crime Fit the Definition of a Violent Crime?
It is clear that using either definition above the crime of rape would be considered a violent crime. Unfortunately, the State of Nebraska does not have a criminal offense referred to as “rape.” Instead, a defendant can be charged with “sexual assault” in Nebraska in the first, second, or third degree. Looking at the definition of first degree sexual assault, it is equivalent to what most people think of as rape. Second and third degree sexual assault, however, are more difficult to analyze. A person can be found guilty of second or third degree sexual assault if they “subject another person to sexual contact without consent of the victim.” The term “sexual contact” can refer to a simple touch, making it much less clear whether some sexual assault charges fit the definition of a violent crime.
Because the facts and circumstances of the case are so important when trying to determine if an offense meets the definition of a “violent crime,” it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney if you have questions.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070.