Sexual abuse of a minor is a very serious allegation. If you are charged and found guilty of this offense, you face years in prison, thousands of dollars in fines, and mandatory registration as a sex offender. You will also be burdened with a permanent criminal record. As a registered sex offender with a criminal history, finding a job or even a place to live can become all but impossible. It is critical that you are represented by a highly experienced Salt Lake City sex crimes attorney as you face these difficult charges. Keep reading to understand more about the crime of sexual abuse of a minor under Utah Criminal Code § 76-5-401.1 from our Utah sexual abuse attorneys at Overson & Bugden.
What is Considered Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Utah?
The crime of sexual abuse of a minor is found under § 76-5-401.1 of the Utah Criminal Code. According to this law, sexual abuse of a minor is different than rape. Rape is a forceful offense that requires sexual penetration of the victim. Sexual abuse of a minor is similar because it is a sexual crime but does not require that the defendant sexually penetrate the minor.
In fact, sexual abuse of a minor is an offense that is similar to many other sex crimes but does not fully amount to sexual intercourse. The law states explicitly that sexual abuse of a minor does not amount to rape, object rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual assault, or unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
Sexual abuse of a minor can be thought of as actions that might ordinarily lead to sexual intercourse. The law states that sexual abuse of a minor may involve the defendant touching the private parts of the minor, like their bottom, genitals, or breast. This can include any number of indecent or inappropriate actions.
The defendant, to be convicted, must have intended to cause emotional or physical pain or gratify sexual desires. This means more innocent forms of touching, such as changing a child’s diaper, would not be considered sexual abuse of a minor.
Additionally, for the purpose of this particular charge, a minor is someone who is at least 14 years old but younger than 16. Also, the defendant must be someone who is at least four years older than the minor. Sexual abuse of a minor is considered a class A misdemeanor.
What Happens After Being Arrested for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Utah?
There are several situations where police officers can make a lawful arrest: observing apparent sexual abuse in progress, having probable cause to believe that sexual abuse has occurred, or executing an arrest warrant previously obtained from a judge. With more than 16 years of experience handling cases, Darwin will scrutinize the details of your arrest to determine whether your Constitutional rights were violated in any way.
Being arrested is not the same as actually being charged with a crime. The prosecutor has three days to file charges following an arrest, during which time the suspect will be detained at a county jail or other holding center. The detainee will go through the booking process, which involves being searched, fingerprinted, and photographed for a mugshot. Personal possessions will be temporarily confiscated.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to seek long extensions on the three-day deadline to file charges, which can result in suspects being detained for a week or more. This sometimes happens in cases involving suspected sexual abuse of a minor because prosecutors really want to make sure their charges stick. These extensions are unconstitutional. If your loved one has been in custody for more than three days without criminal charges being filed, Darwin will challenge the extension and fight to have them released.
Being Questioned by the Police for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Utah
After being arrested, you will likely be questioned by the police about their suspicions. Sexual abuse of a minor is not an allegation you should take lightly. Sex crimes tend to be treated very harshly as it is. When child victims are involved, the situation becomes even more severe. For this reason, the police are likely to ask a lot of questions regarding the alleged abuse. However, you have rights that they must respect. Your Miranda rights, which the police must tell you about at the beginning of the questioning, allow you to have an attorney present while being interrogated by law enforcement. It is crucial that you invoke this right.
Once you have properly invoked your right to an attorney, the police are required to halt all questioning until an attorney arrives. Our Utah criminal defense attorneys are prepared to sit with you during questioning by the police and protect your rights. Crimes involving the sexual abuse of minors can get very emotionally charged. The police may be very eager to get you to incriminate yourself during questioning. Having a lawyer at your side is an excellent way to protect yourself.
The Court Process for Charges of Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Utah
Contrary to what is often depicted in movies and TV shows, the trial is only one part of the full criminal court process. The trial is preceded by many other hearings, each with its own set of rules and requirements.
For a misdemeanor, the process is:
- Arraignment – The defendant enters a plea.
- Pre-Trial Motions – Motions are written requests from attorneys to judges – for example, a motion to suppress evidence.
- Pre-Trial Conference – A final attempt to settle the case before trial is scheduled.
- Trial – The jury must return a unanimous verdict. Sentencing is determined by the judge, using state laws and sentencing guidelines.
Charges for the sexual abuse of a minor are considered class A misdemeanors and will follow the set of hearings and procedures listed above. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and even the courts will be very unsympathetic to defendants charged with sexual crimes. It will take a lot of convincing to sway the court to our side at any stage of the criminal justice process. Our Utah sexual abuse attorneys can work with you to defend yourself from untrue allegations.
What Are the Penalties for Sexual Abuse of a Minor?
Sexual abuse of a minor is a class A misdemeanor. This is only one step below a felony offense. The penalties for class A misdemeanors include a maximum fine of $2,000 and a maximum prison term of 354 days in jail. Each instance of abuse can be counted as a separate offense. So multiple counts of this charge could result in several years in jail.
Unlike other sexual crimes, a convicted defendant may not necessarily have to register as a sex offender. A defendant can avoid registration if they were a first-time offender and were under the age of 21 when they allegedly committed the crime. If this is not your first offense, or you were older than 21, you may be required to register.
The sex offender registry is publicly available. This means your friends, family, and neighbors will all have access and can find you on the list. Being a registered sex offender will also prevent you from obtaining certain jobs and living in areas near school zones or other places children may be.
Evidence in a Case of Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Utah
Cases of sexual abuse of a minor can be tricky because the evidence is often very limited. In many cases, the defendant is arrested because the minor or someone close to them reports the crime to the police. Evidence in such cases is usually testimony from the victim and people close to them. Evidence might also include the results of medical examinations on the minor to determine if sexual abuse did in fact happen.
Unless a defendant is caught in the act or caught on camera, these cases tend to rely on somewhat shaky evidence. Our job as your legal defense is to poke holes in the evidence to weaken the case against you. If testimony from a particular witness is not credible or unreliable, we can file motions to have it suppressed.
Sexual abuse of a minor does not have to involve sexual penetration, so more definitive evidence like DNA likely might not be available. However, do not assume that your case will be a slam dunk win. Being unable to account for your whereabouts when the crime allegedly took place or otherwise being unable to provide an alibi could spell disaster. People may be more willing to believe the alleged victim because they are so young. Our experienced Utah sexual abuse lawyers can help you appropriately strategize to protect your rights.
Family Member Arrested? Contact A Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Today
A conviction of sexual abuse can ruin the rest of your life. You need to act quickly to start planning a legal strategy. Call Utah sexual abuse lawyer Darwin Overson at Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287 right away for a free legal consultation. Your information will be kept confidential. Darwin has experience handling thousands of felonies and misdemeanors in Salt Lake County, Wasatch County, Davis County, Cache County, Weber County, Summit County, and throughout Utah.