Defending Against A Charge of Indecent Liberties in Washington State

Under Washington State law, there are a multitude of ways indecent liberties can be committed and even more ways a charge of indecent liberties can be defended against. The offense covers almost all unlawful sexual contact except sexual intercourse. Although a wide variety of sexual acts covered by this statute may seem minor, the penalties for an indecent liberties conviction bring life-altering consequences. While indecent liberties cases often arise within a patient-provider relationship, they are not limited to that context.

The common factor amongst the wide range of alleged acts that fall under this statute include an alleged victim who is at a disadvantage to the defendant. It’s important for a person accused of indecent liberties to understand the elements needed to prove guilt and an experienced attorney like those at The Marshall Defense Firm can get to know you and the facts of your case, giving you the best chance to successfully fight against these charges. 

What Constitutes “Indecent Liberties” Under Washington Law?

A charge of indecent liberties will always include some type of sexual contact, as defined by Washington State law. “Sexual contact” means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party or a third party. This typically includes acts such as groping and fondling but not intercourse, which typically results in the more serious charge of rape. Additionally, the statute only applies to situations where the defendant and the alleged victim are not married to one another

There are three categories of conduct covered by indecent liberties: disability of the alleged victim, authority over the alleged victim, and certain examples of “forcible compulsion.”

Disability of the Alleged Victim

A person commits the offense of indecent liberties if they engage in sexual contact with a person who is deemed incapable of granting consent because of one or more of the following factors:

  • The victim is incapable of consent by reason of being mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.
  • The victim has a developmental disability

This mean the person either has either a persistent condition (or temporary condition at the time of the alleged assault) preventing them from understanding the nature of the conduct, or that they are physically helpless and cannot communicate their consent to the sexual contact.

Authority Over the Alleged Victim

There are several situations where a defendant may be charged with indecent liberties for using the authority associated with their position, rather than force or threat of force, to engage in sexual contact:

  • A person who works for a care facility for the developmentally disabled, and one of the patients or residents of that facility is the victim.
  • A person who transports people with developmental disabilities to or from said facilities, and a passenger is the victim.
  • A healthcare provider, such as a doctor or therapist, and a patient is the victim.
  • A staff member of a residential treatment facility for chemical dependencies or mental disorders, and a resident is the victim.
  • A person who provides elder or disabled care, and an adult under their care who lacks the ability to provide for his or her daily needs is the victim.

Note that in some of these situations—a health care treatment session, for example—it is no defense that both parties were adults who wanted the sexual contact. However, an affirmative defense exists if the client or patient consented to sexual contact while knowing that it was not for healthcare treatment. The ability to distinguish between these types of situations when tailoring a defense to the particular form of indecent liberties alleged is one of the reasons every case needs an experienced defense attorney who can bring insight and vigor to build a strong defense.

Forcible Compulsion

There are certain instances where a person is accused of compelling an alleged victim to engage in sexual contact, such as the threat or use of physical force. “Forcible compulsion” means physical force which overcomes resistance, or a threat, expressed or implied, that places a person in fear of death or physical injury to herself or himself or another person, or in fear that she or he or another person will be kidnapped.


What is the Punishment for Indecent Liberties?

The crime of indecent liberties is a class A felony if the perpetrator committed the act with forcible compulsion. This means an offender can receive as much as life in prison and a fine of up to c

But very few offenders receive the maximum penalty. Most persons convicted of indecent liberties receive a sentence within the Standard Sentencing Range established by Washington law. A person with no prior criminal record would have a Standard Sentencing Range of 51-68 months in custody if found guilty of one count of indecent liberties by forcible compulsion, or 15-20 months if found guilty of one count of any other form of indecent liberties. Persons convicted of multiple counts have longer standard sentencing ranges.

Everyone convicted of indecent liberties is also required to register as a sex offender, which brings its own set of life-changing consequences (potentially for life).

Offenders are eligible to receive the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative, which focuses on treatment. This usually includes a year in jail, but a few SSOSA offenders receive more than a year, and a few receive much less. Judges usually grant SSOSA sentences only to persons whose victims are minors.

A conviction for indecent liberties could also lead to future consequences outside of the criminal law. Civil lawsuits can lead to being required to compensate the victim for economic and non-economic damages, such as lost wages, medical bills (future and current), and loss of future income, in addition to compensation for pain and suffering, psychological injuries, and emotional scarring. Awards for psychological injuries sometimes exceed a million dollars.


Why You Should Choose The Marshall Defense Firm

Respect and compassion are the foundation of our work. We take time to get to know you and your case. It’s where our fierce advocacy for you begins.

Then there’s our experience. For decades we have defended those accused of sexual assaults. From that and our on-going study of the law, medicine, and psychology involved in these cases, we have exceptional skill.

And we pool that skill. We work as a team. We know that no one lawyer, no matter how brilliant, will have all the good ideas for your case.

Our final ingredient is relentless investigation and preparation. When we step into court to defend you, we are ready to do it well.

If you or a loved one needs services like ours, contact us at 206.826.1400 or for an appointment.


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