Many crimes in California can be classified as either a “felony” or a “misdemeanor” depending on details of the crime and how it is committed. Sexual assault, which can be charged under multiple different statutes, is one of these offenses. In some cases, sexual assault can be a misdemeanor offense, but in others, it can be a much more serious felony offense. For help with your sexual assault case, contact the Ventura rape defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.

Rape vs. Sexual Assault in California

To understand whether sexual assault can be a misdemeanor, we must first look at which crimes qualify as “sexual assault.” The term “sexual assault” is a common name for rape and other related sexual offenses in California. The most common offenses labeled “sexual assault” are rape under Penal Code § 261 and sexual battery under Penal Code § 243.4.

Sexual battery is the crime most likely to be called “sexual assault,” since assault and battery are related offenses. This crime makes it illegal to touch someone sexually under certain circumstances, covering illegal sexual conduct that is short of rape or forcible sexual intercourse. Subsections of this statute focus on touching someone else while they are being restrained by another person, while they are unconscious, or while they are institutionalized. The touching in this statute can include touching over the clothes or under the clothes. The areas touched to qualify as an offense under this statute include “the sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female.”

In contrast, the crime of rape covers illegal sexual intercourse under various circumstances. The circumstances include situations which indicate a lack of consent, such as intercourse when…

  • The victim cannot give consent
  • The act is accomplished by force
  • The victim is drugged
  • The victim is unconscious
  • The victim was unaware of what is happening
  • The victim was induced by fraud or lies
  • The act is accomplished through threats
  • The actor uses their authority to coerce the victim
  • Other circumstances involving threats or coercion.

These crimes are both serious offenses and can result in substantial fines and jail time.

Penalties for Sexual Assault in CA

Penalties for crimes in California are typically classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. Traditionally, a misdemeanor is any crime punished by up to a year in jail while felonies are any crimes punished by a potential of more than one year in prison. California’s misdemeanor offenses are given set penalty ranges which are usually explicitly listed as “imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months” or “not exceeding one year.” Sexual battery under Penal Code § 243.4 allows punishment this way, with some portions of the statute carrying up to six months in jail and others carrying up to one year.

The other method for setting penalties is for the statute to list specific numbers of years in jail. Since any of these potential penalties area more than a year in prison, crimes punished under this type of penalty structure are felonies. In the case of sexual battery, the offense is typically punished “by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.

Rape is a much more serious offense than sexual battery, since it covers more serious and violative conduct. This crime is a misdemeanor only in situations of “statutory rape,” where the victim is unable to consent because they are underage. Most other instances of rape are punished by very high penalties of” imprisonment in the state prison for three, six, or eight years.” Crimes against children can even be punished by “7, 9, or 11 years” or “10, 12, or 14 years” in prison.

Under these rules, either offense could be charged as a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in jail, but most rape crimes are too serious and must be charged as a felony. Since California has many “wobbler” offenses that can shift between misdemeanor and felony levels, it is important always to discuss your case with a Ventura criminal defense lawyer.

A conviction for these crimes can also carry high fines and require registration as a sex offender.

Our Ventura, CA Sexual Assault Lawyers Offer Free Legal Consultations

If you were charged with a sexual offense, your future could be in jeopardy. While some offenses may qualify for reduced misdemeanor penalties, many sexual assault crimes and other sexual offenses are felonies carrying extremely high penalties. If you were charged with sexual assault in California, contact our criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth. To schedule a free consultation, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555 today.