A charge of some form of sexual assault is one of the very most serious and explosive charges that can be leveled against a person. Not only can one face serious prison time, but it is the kind of charge that may carry a stigma for life as one is labeled a sex offender and will likely be listed on the Sex Offender Registry.
In Massachusetts, other than the more serious charges such as rape or assault with intent to rape, a sexual assault is generally charged as Indecent Assault and Battery.
It differs from simple assault and battery which is defined as an unwanted or “unconsented touching” even if it is without force or apparent injury. If one intentionally or recklessly punches, grabs, slaps, spits or throws some substance on another person, or has any kind of unwelcome physical contact that would be simple battery.
But the even more serious offense of indecent assault and battery is charged generally depending on the specific area of the body that is touched or the specific act that the accused person does. There are no specific touched areas of the body as defined by the law that qualify an assault and battery as an indecent assault and battery as the law merely defines decency as “fundamentally offensive to contemporary standards of decency.” So, such charges can be subject to interpretation. But most indecent assault and battery cases have to do with the touching of body parts generally recognized as private such as the genital area, the buttocks or breasts.
So, essentially, the prosecution will have to prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of an indecent assault and battery:
- That the alleged victim was touched intentionally.
- That the touching was indecent.
- That the touching was without consent and unwanted.
There can be even more serious charges depending on the alleged victim. One can be charged with indecent assault and battery on a child; indecent assault and battery on an elder (60 or over) or person with a disability; or indecent assault and battery on a person with an intellectual disability.
Potential truthful defenses to a charge of indecent assault and battery:
- Accident. Since someone who commits an indecent assault and battery must do so purposely with intent, it is a defense if such a touching genuinely happens by accident. For example, this could occur in a jam-packed trolley where the brakes are unexpectedly jammed-on and the riders may be thrown forward and unintentionally touch.
- Consent. There could be an incident where the alleged victim had consented to a sexual act and, only after the fact, regretted it or became angry with the sexual partner. Maybe after the act, the accused no longer wanted to see the alleged victim or perhaps the alleged victim learned that the supposed boyfriend had been unfaithful and therefore now had regrets. There are also issues concerning a victim’s inability to consent. If someone is intoxicated developmentally disabled, mentally incompetent, or under the legal age of consent, the fact that they may have, indeed, consented still might not be recognized as legal consent. The issue might be whether you knew or reasonably should have known that the other party was impaired in some way, although in the case of underage victims the fat that one didn’t know that they were underage is not a defense.
- Motive. As noted above, is there some apparent reason that the alleged victim would falsely accuse someone of the crime of indecent assault and battery? Are they in a child custody battle or divorce and can use this false charge against the other party to gain advantage in the other proceedings? Do they want revenge from a failed relationship, an unfaithful partner, feel very guilty about the act or did their spouse or other partner find out about the sex so now the victim is falsely claiming that it was not their fault and done against their will? Does any motive exist for someone to falsely make these charges?
- Tainted testimony. Particularly in the case of child testimony, there are a variety of ways that they can either be directly pressured to make false allegations or, particularly in some situations where the child is officially interviewed by professionals, interviewed in a way that is very suggestive. Children are impressionable and are vulnerable to biased questioning.
- Challenged evidence. Particularly in the case of indecent assault and battery on a stranger, there is also, occasionally, tainted evidence that is inaccurate. There might be a very flawed identification procedure of the accused through a line-up or photo array. DNA can be challenged and may scientific or forensic tests on physical evidence can be contaminated or mishandled. This is where an experienced veteran criminal defense attorney can make a difference on your case. Evidence can be uncovered and investigated that will help the accused along with witnesses found and new previously unseen evidence uncovered.
The consequences of a conviction on any sex offense can potentially be severe even beyond a lengthy prison sentence. It can destroy ones reputation for life as the public including neighbors and family reviles those who are convicted of these among the most scorned charges. A number of attorneys even refuse to defend the accused against such toxic charges. This is why an experienced criminal defense attorney dedicated to justice and unafraid to aggressively defend against such false accusations is crucial.