While being charged with a crime is always a terrifying experience, sex crimes in particular carry quite a heavy stigma. Being accused of these offenses can wreak havoc in your life, from your relationships to your career and housing opportunities.
As a Rhode Island sex crimes defense attorney with over 25 years of successful experience, John E. MacDonald has advocated aggressively on behalf of hundreds of clients.
This makes him extremely familiar with Rhode Island sex crimes laws and how these types of accusations can wreak havoc in your life.
But the most important thing to remember in this situation is that you aren’t out of options. We put together this comprehensive guide to Rhode Island sex crimes so you understand what to expect, potential defenses, and what you should do next.
For sexual assault laws and penalties go to Rhode Island Sexual Assault Laws
Overview of Rhode Island Sex Crime Laws
For the most part, Rhode Island sex crime laws fall under Rhode Island General Laws § 11-37. These define the various degrees of sexual assault, child molestation, indecent solicitation of a child, and subsequent offenses.
First degree sexual assault is when the accused isn’t the spouse, and also has grounds to believe the victim has a diminished mental state (mentally disabled, drunk / drugged, or physically incapable). It also includes the use of force/coercion, or overcoming the victim.
Second degree sexual assault is categorized the same as first degree, with the distinction that no penetration is involved. Penetration bumps the charge up to first degree. Second degree means there was contact with sexual intent.
Third degree sexual assault, more commonly known as statutory rape, is when the accused is 18 or older, penetration was involved, and the victim was over the age of 14 but under the age of 16. These charges are also common when both parties are under the age of 18.
First degree child molestation involves sexual penetration with a child under the age of 14. Second degree child molestation means sexual contact with a child under the age of 14.
In Rhode Island, we also have an Elder Abuse Law, which makes it a mandatory duty for citizens to report a suspicion of elder abuse—including sexual abuse.
Similarly, citizens also have a Duty to Report, meaning they’re legally mandated to report sexual assault immediately if they witness it—or face legal consequences.
Finally, the Rhode Island Statute of Limitations for sex crimes is three years in most cases. The exceptions are first degree sexual assault, first degree child molestation, and second degree child molestation. These offenses have no time limit or statute of limitations.
How Does Rhode Island Define Consent in Sexual Activities, and What Role Does It Play in Sex Crime Cases?
Rhode Island defines consent in sexual activities as complying or acquiescing with the sexual proposition of another. To be capable of legally giving consent, a person must:
- Not be forcibly compelled to give consent
- Understand the nature and consequences of a sexual act, plus be aware that a sexual act is occurring
- Not be under the influence of a controlling or intoxicating substance which renders them incapable of understanding the situation
- Be physically able (conscious, aware of the sexual act, and capable of communicating)
- Be at least 16 years old
Consent plays a huge role in sex crime cases. For example, sexual penetration through the use of force, coercion, or concealment is considered first-degree sexual assault in Rhode Island. In many cases, establishing consent (or a lack thereof) determines whether a crime was committed.
Types of Sex Crimes
Sex crimes in Rhode Island are a fairly broad category. They typically involve non-consensual or unwanted sexual contact, which is also known as sexual assault. These crimes, which Rhode Island General Laws § 11-37 layout, include:
- Statutory rape
- Indecent exposure
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual assault
- Failure to register as a sex offender
- Child pornography
- Child molestation
- Attempted sexual contact
- Endangering the welfare of a minor
- Soliciting a minor
Can Minors Be Charged with Sex Crimes in Rhode Island, and What are the Legal Consequences?
Yes, minors can be charged with sex crimes in Rhode Island. You might be inclined to think that minors are exempt from these types of charges, but the laws are fairly clear on how this might happen.
You see, it’s true that Rhode Island has what’s colloquially referred to as a “Romeo and Juliet” law. These are formally known as “close-to-age exemptions.
They allow for anyone over the age of 14 to consent to sex with anyone under the age of 18—even though Rhode Island’s age of consent is technically 16.
But these laws apply only to this very specific scenario. If, for example, a 15-year-old has sex with anyone under the age of 14, they may be charged with one or several sex crimes.
Penalties for Sex Crimes in Rhode Island
The penalties for sex crimes in Rhode Island are as follows:
- First degree sexual assault – Incarceration for at least 10 years, up to life in prison
- Second degree sexual assault – Incarceration for at least three years, up to 15 years
- Third degree sexual assault – Incarceration for a maximum of 5 years
- Assault with intent to commit first degree sexual assault – Incarceration for at least three years, up to 20 years
- Found guilty, or pleading guilty / no contest to a sex crime – $100 assessment fee, registering as a sex offender, paying statutory costs and assessments, and potentially paying the costs of any necessary psychiatric, psychological, or medical treatment for the victim
- Subsequent sex crimes – If you’re convicted of a second or subsequent sex crime, your sentence is required to be at least twice the minimum number of years as your sentence for your most recent offense
- First degree child molestation – Incarceration for at least 25 years, up to life in prison
- Second degree child molestation – Incarceration for at least six years, up to 30 years
- Indecent solicitation of a minor – Incarceration for at least 5 years
- Possession of child pornography – Up to five years in prison, in addition to fines
- Transfer of child pornography – Up to 15 years in prison
What are the Potential Defenses for Someone Accused of a Sex Crime in Rhode Island?
A few potential defenses for someone accused of a sex crime in Rhode Island are proving both parties consented, proving the allegations are false, or demonstrating a Mistake of Fact.
However, not all defense strategies are appropriate for all cases. For example, anyone under the age of 16 in Rhode Island can’t consent to sexual acts with someone over the age of 18. Even if a 15-year-old insists they consented to the sexual act, it just isn’t a valid defense if the other party was age 18 or older.
Proving the allegations are false often takes quite a bit of effort. Hiring a skilled, aggressive Rhode Island sex crimes defense lawyer like John E. MacDonald will make the process much more straightforward and manageable. You’ll typically need to demonstrate a lack of evidence and eyewitnesses, and create a timeline demonstrating contradictions with other facts.
Finally, demonstrating Mistake of Fact means proving that while an alleged victim didn’t actually consent to the sexual act, you mistakenly believed consent had been given. This requires evaluating the alleged victim’s actions, body language, and demeanor as a whole.
But knowing these potential defenses for sex crime accusations in Rhode Island isn’t a replacement for a skilled, aggressive RI criminal defense attorney. And the sooner you hire legal representation, the sooner you can start working towards clearing your name of these serious charges.
If you or a loved one has been charged with any kind of sex crime in Rhode Island, contact the RI Sex Crime Defense Lawyers at the Law Office of John E. MacDonald or call (401) 421-1440 to schedule your consultation.