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What is Criminal Sexual Contact?

Posted on: June 7, 2021

Any crime that involves sexual contact is a serious accusation that could land the accused in prison for many years. New Jersey and other states have very detailed laws that prohibit criminal sexual contact. Even with detailed laws on the books and many cases on record, the exact definition of criminal sexual contact is never absolutely clear. A lawyer experienced in criminal defense can help to create the best defense when a client is falsely accused of criminal sexual contact.

Rutgers University’s Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance defines criminal sexual contact as the intentional and non-consensual touching of intimate body parts to degrade the victim or arouse or otherwise gratify the perpetrator. Criminal sexual contact could include the victim touching the perpetrator, the perpetrator touching the victim, or the victim touching himself or herself at the behest of the perpetrator.

Although Rutgers University does not enact or enforce laws, its definition of criminal sexual contact is based on New Jersey law and clearly defines the general act. Respective state laws are much more specific and can become convoluted, but they all generally reflect the definition put forth by Rutgers based on New Jersey criminal sexual contact laws.

Component of Criminal Sexual Assault

Even though it might not include actual touching of a victim, criminal sexual contact is a subset of sexual assault. The worst example of sexual assault is rape resulting in injury to the victim and especially if the victim is underage. New Jersey has four separate degrees of criminal sexual assault, with criminal sexual contact ranked as the least offensive.

An aggravated sexual assault in the first degree is the most serious sexual assault charge. Anything worse would fall under criminal laws regarding rape, so it helps to understand the more subtle nuances of sexual assault and how criminal sexual contact is a related criminal act. The following is a closer look at New Jersey criminal sexual contact laws and potential penalties for those convicted of violations.

Criminal Sexual Contact in the Fourth Degree

In most states, criminal sexual contact is a relatively low but still serious accusation that generally falls under the sexual assault statutes. New Jersey law says criminal sexual contact refers to the intentional touching of intimate parts by the victim or perpetrator and for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the victim or arousing or sexually gratifying the perpetrator. The contact could occur either directly or through clothing by the perpetrator or the victim.

New Jersey criminal law defines criminal sexual contact as a fourth-degree offense and says it occurs whenever the perpetrator:

  • Uses coercion or physical force without causing injury.
  • Is at least four years older than a victim who is at least 13 years old but is under age 16.
  • Exercises disciplinary or supervisory power over the victim due to professional, occupational, or legal status.
  • Is related to the victim by blood or affinity to the third degree.
  • Holds a teaching, substitute teaching, school bus driver, or other school employee, contractor, or volunteer position with disciplinary or supervisory power over the victim.
  • Is a resource family parent, guardian, or possesses loco parentis authority within a household.

The punishment for a conviction on each count of criminal sexual contact is up to 18 months in prison. The offense likely would rise to a higher level of sexual assault if the victim suffers a severe personal injury. New Jersey defines severe personal injury as any severe injury, disfigurement, disease, chronic pain, or incapacitating mental illness.

Sometimes, an accused who faces a strong body of evidence might plead guilty to a lower charge. A guilty plea to criminal sexual contact in the fourth degree might be preferable to a potentially lengthy trial for an offense that might have a more severe penalty. That is especially true if the evidence against the accused is generally overwhelming.

Common Defenses Against Criminal Sexual Contact Charges

It always is important to keep in mind that the U.S. legal system fully affirms that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The local prosecutor has to prove the accused is guilty. The accused does not have the burden to prove innocence. Whenever someone is falsely accused of criminal sexual contact, two general defenses work best.

The first is that it never happened, so no crime occurred. The notion that someone accused of sexual assault or the lesser charge of criminal sexual contact simply did not do the crime might surprise some people. But many purported victims have made up the entire event and accused an innocent person in the past. Sadly, such false accusations are certain to continue for as long as men and women have intimate relations.

Innocence is an absolute defense and is provable when the accused can show his or her whereabouts at the time of the alleged crime, for example. If the supposed event occurred at a particular place and time, but the accused has an alibi proving he or she was someplace else, that kind of evidence easily could get charges dropped. An alibi might be affirmed by cellphone records, GPS tracking on vehicles, video evidence with time stamps at other locations, and a wide range of other potential innocence-affirming records.

The second general defense is that there was no criminal sexual contact because of consensual acts by the alleged victim. If the alleged victim had been drinking or doing intoxicating drugs and afterward claimed a consensual act was a sexual assault, the potential for doubt becomes much greater.

Many cases have fallen apart when the accuser turned out to be a willing participant in an otherwise legal sexual act. If the accuser is known to drink and carouse often and generally acts in an overtly sexual manner, the burden of proof becomes much more difficult for the prosecution to affirm.

Consent Standards Differ by State

Each state has its own definition of legal consent when it comes to sexual acts between adults. An accuser who willfully drinks or does intoxicating drugs to the point of excess and afterward makes outlandish claims based on a hazy or downright false recollection of the event does not have a strong case.

However, an individual who does not engage in such behaviors and wound up blacked out from a drink spiked with a date rape drug would have a very strong case, especially if the claim is affirmed by a toxicology report. The consent defense can be a very effective one but oftentimes requires highly nuanced legal arguments to present an effective defense against false charges.

Insanity and Mental Capacity Defenses

Two other legal defenses against criminal sexual contact charges are based on the mental capacity of the accused. When the accused is legally insane at the time of the alleged crime or otherwise is mentally incapable of understanding right from wrong in such an instance, the court could rule the accused is innocent because of insanity, mental capacity, or mental defect, among other potential legal defenses.

Those legal defenses generally require expert testimony and likely examination by state-sponsored mental health experts as well as those testifying on behalf of the accused. They can be particularly difficult when dealing with a jury trial, and the jurors need to be made fully aware of the extent of mental defect or other issue at stake in the case.

Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Help Those Charged with Criminal Sexual Contact

If you have been accused of criminal sexual contact, the experienced Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law can help you to present the best possible defense. The accused always has rights that must be upheld to enable true justice, rather than simply accuse and condemn people based on loose allegations, bad evidence, and bad policing. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Marlboro Township, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.