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Sex Crimes: Legal Terminology You May Hear in Court

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Being accused of a sex crime is an uncomfortable and challenging experience. It’s made more difficult by an array of legal terms that are hard to understand without a legal background or education. This list groups the most common terms into categories and explains what they mean. It will enable you to discuss accusations against you or a loved one with your criminal defense lawyer in an informed way.

Category 1: Different Types of Sex Crimes

Scared ManSex crimes fall under a range of descriptions, many of which are potentially serious and can be damaging to your reputation. While there’s a long list of actual charges that can be laid, the ones used most often are:

  • Sexual Assault: This is usually a second-degree felony charge laid when accusations are made of unwanted sexual contact that involves penetration, either without the victim’s consent or by the use (or threat) of physical force, violence or manipulation through blackmail or coercion. It means penetration of any part of the body with any item, regardless of the age or gender of either the victim or the accused.
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault: A sexual assault becomes an aggravated charge (and a first-degree felony) when it results in injury to the victim, the accused shows a deadly weapon as a threat, the victim is a senior or child younger than 14 years, is disabled mentally or physically, or the assault is committed with the help of others or the use of force.
  • Indecent Exposure: This is a Class B demeanor under Texas law, unless the victim is a child under the age of 17. It’s used in cases where the defendant is accused of exposing any of his private parts with the intention of anyone’s sexual gratification, including the accused, the victim or any spectators.
  • Public Lewdness: A Class A demeanor, public lewdness includes having sex in public and any sexual activities involving animals. Even if these acts don’t take place in public but in the presence of someone who might be offended or alarmed by them, they qualify for the description.
  • Copulation or Coitus: Both of these mean the act of having sexual intercourse, and usually refer specifically to the penetration of the female vagina with the male’s penis.

Category 2: Mitigating Circumstances

Mitigating circumstances is a term that’s used extensively in sex crime cases. It means that conditions exist that reduce the accused’s responsibility for committing the crime. Some of the terms that you might hear in this category include:

  • Coercion or Duress: being forced to commit the crime by someone else
  • Mental Impairment: Having insufficient mental ability to understand what they are doing, either because of mental illness, drugs or alcohol
  • Remorse: The offender sincerely regrets his actions and is prepared to make up for them

Category 3: Suitable Defense Positions

A skilled criminal defense attorney will build a strong case for the accused using various arguments. Whether the defendant is guilty or not, the attorney’s job is to minimize the penalty and the damage to his reputation. Common terminology for some arguments is:

  • Cognitive Distortion: A way of thinking that enables the offender to justify his actions. For example, the defendant may have believed that the victim was coming on to him, or that he couldn’t be blamed for feeling the way he did.
  • Culpability: Although this indicates the accused is to blame for the crime, it suggests a lower level of guilt. Examples include making a mistake or being ignorant of what he was doing.
  • Disinhibitors: Factors that motivate the offender to commit a crime or reduce his natural reservations against doing so. Cognitive distortion can be considered an internal disinhibitor, and drugs and alcohol are external inhibitors.
  • Paraphilia: A psychological disorder relating to intense sexual fantasies that some offenders suffer from, such as pedophilia or fetishism.

Category 4: Potential Penalties

For anyone facing conviction for a sex crime, it’s important to understand the terms relating to the penalties they’re likely to get. The most commonly used of these are:

  • Psychosexual Evaluation: This is psychological testing by a professional to understand the offender’s reasons, the level of risk and the best course of treatment.
  • Probation: The offender remains free, provided he doesn’t commit any further crimes for a specific period. He is usually supervised by a qualified individual during the probation.
  • Restitution: The offender is required to make up for his crime, usually by paying money for damages to either the victim or another affected party.
  • Sex Offender Registration: The requirement for offenders to provide identifying information that enables law enforcement to track them for the rest of their lives.

These are just a few of the terms a sex crimes defendant might come in contact with, but your sex crimes lawyer will be able to explain any others that are used in your case.

*Image courtesy of Guian Bolisay


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