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Different Degrees of Sexual Assault

Posted on February 7, 2024

Many states categorize sexual assault into different degrees, each reflecting the severity of the offense and carrying varying legal consequences.

First-Degree Sexual Assault

This is the most severe charge and involves sexual penetration without consent or when the victim is incapable of providing consent due to incapacitation or impairment. Penalties for first-degree sexual assault are severe, often resulting in lengthy prison sentences.

Second-Degree Sexual Assault

This charge may involve sexual contact without consent, where force or threats are present, but it doesn’t meet the criteria for first-degree assault. It may also apply when the victim is physically helpless or incapacitated. Penalties for second-degree sexual assault are less severe than first-degree, but often still result in a prison sentence.

Third-Degree Sexual Assault

This degree typically involves sexual contact without consent but may not involve force or incapacitation. It also covers situations where the perpetrator knows that the victim is unable to give consent due to age or mental incapacity. Penalties for third-degree sexual assault are less severe than the higher degrees but can still result in significant legal consequences.

Sexual Assault in Colorado

In Colorado, sexual assault encompasses a range of non-consensual sexual acts without the requirement of categorization into degrees. The focus is on whether penetration occurred, and the severity of penalties may vary based on factors such as the use of force, the involvement of date rape drugs, or other aggravating circumstances.

Sexual Assault

CO Code § 18-3-402

According to state law, “Any actor who knowingly inflicts sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on a victim commits sexual assault if:”

  • The victim is forced to submit against their will.
  • The defendant exploits the victim’s mistaken belief that they are the spouse;
  • The defendant engages in sexual activity under the false pretense of providing medical treatment inconsistent with reasonable practices.

This offense also applies when the victim is incapable of comprehending the sexual conduct, unconscious, under 14 years old with the defendant being at least 4 years older, or 15-16 years old with the defendant being at least 10 years older. Additionally, it encompasses situations where the victim is detained in a facility like a jail, prison, or hospital, and the defendant abuses their authority for coercion.

Unlawful Sexual Contact

Unlawful sexual contact is defined as the following under state law:

CO Code § 18-3-404

“Any actor who knowingly subjects a victim to any sexual contact commits unlawful sexual contact if:”

The defendant knowingly touched the victim’s intimate parts or compelled the victim to touch their intimate parts with a sexual motive. This act is prohibited when the victim does not consent, is unable to comprehend the conduct, is unconscious or asleep, or is an inmate under the authority of the defendant in a prison, jail, or hospital.

The offense also extends to instances where the defendant employs date rape drugs, falsely claims to offer a medical treatment or exam inconsistent with reasonable practices, or intentionally induces a child under 18 to expose their intimate parts or engage in sexual contact for the defendant’s gratification, utilizing the same means listed for Sexual Assault.

Penalties for Sexual Assault in Colorado

Sentences for Sexual Assault vary based on the severity of the situation and additional aggravating factors, but the following are potential penalties.

  • A Class 2 Felony carries a sentence of 16-48 years in prison, a fine ranging from $5,000 to $1,000,000, and 5 years of mandatory parole, with potential increases for assistance by another person, serious physical injury to the victim or the use of a deadly weapon.
  • For a Class 3 Felony, the penalty is 8-24 years in prison, a $3,000 to $750,000 fine, and 5 years of mandatory parole, with specific conditions such as the victim being physically disabled and non-consenting or the use of force, threats, or impairment with a date rape drug by the defendant.
  • A Class 4 Felony generally incurs a penalty of 4-12 years in prison, a fine between $2,000 and $500,000, and 3 years of mandatory parole.
  • A Class 1 Misdemeanor applies if the victim is 15 or 16 and the defendant is 10 years older, with an increased sentencing range for an “extraordinary risk” crime.

For Unlawful Sexual Contact, a Class 4 Felony applies in cases of force, intimidation, or threat or during a deceptive medical exam, while a Class 1 Misdemeanor is the typical penalty, with both being “extraordinary risk” crimes subject to increased sentences.