How are Sexual Assault Crimes Prosecuted in Washington

How are Sexual Assault Crimes Prosecuted in Washington?

“Sexual assault” is not the name of any crime in Washington state. Instead, “sexual assault” is a category that includes many crimes. RCW 70.125.030(7) defines sexual assault as any of the following crimes:

(a) Rape or rape of a child;

(b) Assault with intent to commit rape or rape of a child;

(c) Incest or indecent liberties;

(d) Child molestation;

(e) Sexual misconduct with a minor;

(f) Custodial sexual misconduct;

(g) Crimes with a sexual motivation;

(h) Sexual exploitation or commercial sex abuse of a minor;

(i) Promoting prostitution; or

(j) An attempt to commit any of the preceding offenses.

Rape is a form of sexual assault under Washington law. It has three different degrees. Rape in the second degree can be committed in many different ways. Among the forms of rape in the second degree are having sexual intercourse with someone “[b]y forcible compulsion” or “[w]hen the victim is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.” Rape in the second degree is a Class A felony. 

Rape in the first degree requires forcible compulsion and also requires that the defendant:

  • use or threaten to use a deadly weapon, 
  • inflict serious physical harm, 
  • perform kidnapping, or 
  • break into a building to perform the act. 

Rape in the first degree is also a Class A felony, but RCW 9A.44.45 adds additional penalties to that crime; the sentence may not be deferred or suspended, and there is a minimum prison sentence of three years.

Consent as a Defense in Sexual Assault Cases

Consent in Washington is an active and continuing process. Also, there can be no consent recognized by the law when one party lacks the mental capacity to consent to the act. Inability to consent can be temporary, such as through excessive drinking, or an underlying mental issue can remove the capacity to consent indefinitely. 

Consent is not a one-time occurrence. Consent can be withdrawn at any point in the encounter. If the act continues despite consent’s being withdrawn, then the act becomes a criminal sexual assault. 

When having a sexual encounter, it is always important to make sure the other party consents to starting, to continuing, and to escalating. 

How Prosecutors Prove Rape

Proving that a sex act occurred can be done through forensic evidence, with DNA and rape kits showing that the alleged victim had sexual activity recently. But quite often prosecutors present little evidence of a criminal sex act other than the testimony of the person who says they were sexually assaulted—the complainant. If the complainant’s testimony is compelling, a jury can convict on nothing more than that.

Proving a lack of consent likewise can be done simply by the complainant’s testimony. In the case of first-degree rape, injuries or evidence of a weapon can also be used to prove there was no consent. 

Evidence of incapacitation through drugs or alcohol can prove a lack of consent. 

Sometimes there is testimony from both parties, giving conflicting accounts about whether there was consent throughout the encounter. 

Having a capable lawyer is vital to defending oneself from sexual assault charges. The Marshall Defense Firm can provide the defense you need. We have decades of experience defending people against charges of sexual assault, including rape. We have compassion for our clients in what may be the most stressful time in their life. We also bring both well-tested and novel arguments to protect our clients. 

If you or a family member is accused of sexual assault, contact us at 206.826.1400 or for an appointment.

Confer with us in good health! You may choose to confer with us by Zoom or telephone to avoid Covid risk. Please phone us at 206.826.1400 to schedule your conference.