A person who is convicted or rape or sexual assault in Minnesota may be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his or her life. The legal name for these offenses is criminal sexual conduct.
Criminal sexual assault is categorized into five degrees under Minnesota law. The first degree is the most serious and involves penetration coupled with other factors, such as a victim under the age of 13, use of a deadly weapon, impairment of the victim or a close relationship to a victim under the age of 16. Second-degree sexual assault involves any of the same circumstances as sexual assault in the first degree without penetration.
Sexual assault in the third degree under Minnesota law involves penetration under circumstances that differ from those that are involved in assault in the first degree. A person who would otherwise be guilty of sexual assault in the first degree may instead be charged with third-degree sexual assault if he or she is close in age to the victim and is a minor. Fourth-degree sexual assault involves any conduct listed in the offense of third-degree sexual assault minus penetration.
Fifth-degree sexual assault involves engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact, including attempts to remove clothing in an aggressive manner or knowingly masturbating or exposing one's genitals in the presence of a child under age 16.
Sexual offenses carry harsh penalties under both state and federal law. A person charged with this type of offense may benefit from consulting with a lawyer about what defenses may be available. It is generally not a defense that the defendant was mistaken about the victim's age, although there are exceptions. Consent also is not a defense if the victim was younger than 13 years old.
A criminal defense lawyer may be able to assist someone by attacking the state's case at a criminal trial. He or she also may engage in plea negotiations to allow a client accused of sexual misconduct to plead guilty to a lesser charge.