Engaging in sexual contact with a minor 15 years or older without the minor's consent could result in sexual abuse charges in Arizona. Sexual abuse is a serious offense that could land you in prison, not to mention the collateral consequences of a conviction, such as a requirement to register as a sex offender, ruined relationships, or difficulties finding employment or housing. Therefore, you should work with a sex defense attorney as soon as you learn of these charges. Your defense attorney will develop a defense strategy to help you fight these charges. Arizona Sex Defense Attorney works with people charged with sexual abuse in Phoenix, AZ.

Legal Definition of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse in Arizona is the offense of intentionally or knowingly engaging in sexual contact with a person who is 15 years or older without that person's consent or with a person under 15, where the contact involves only the female breast. You are also guilty of the offense if the victim is aged 15, 16, or 17 and you engage in sexual contact with or without their consent if you are in a position of trust.

Sexual contact refers to any indirect or direct touching, fondling, or manipulation of the genitals, female breast, and anus, by another body part or object. Sexual contact does not include similar touching during caretaking responsibilities as long as these actions are normal and reasonable under the circumstances.

Touching a person without their consent means:

  • You coerced the victim using force or the threat of force

  • The victim was incapable of consenting to sexual contact due to a mental disorder, drugs, sleep, intoxication, or similar incapacitation.

  • You intentionally deceived the victim on the nature and purpose of the contact.

  • You intentionally deceived the victim into believing that he or she is your spouse.

You are in a position of trust if:

  • You are the minor's biological parent, guardian, foster parent, or adoptive parent.

  • You are the minor’s teacher

  • You are the minor’s priest or clergyman

  • You engaged in a romantic or sexual relationship with the minor's parent, guardian, foster parent.

Dangerous Crimes against Children

ARS 13-705 covers Arizona’s law for dangerous crimes against children. A dangerous crime against a child is an offense committed against children younger than 15 years. For a crime to be considered a dangerous crime against a child, it must:

  • Be an eligible crime.

  • The defendant was 18 or older or was charged as an adult for the offense

  • The victim was 15 or younger or was an unborn child, and the defendant should have known that the victim was 15 or younger

The following sex crimes are examples of dangerous crimes against children:

  • Sexual assault

  • Molestation of a child

  • Sexual exploitation of a minor

  • Luring of a child for sexual exploitation

  • Sexual extortion

  • Intentional instances of child abuse that would seriously harm or kill the child

  • Sexual abuse

  • Continuous sexual abuse

  • Taking a child for prostitution

  • Sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking

Other crimes that fit this category include second-degree murder, aggravated assault, attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, unlawful mutilation, bestiality, and unlawful age misrepresentation.

Dangerous Crimes against Children affect:

  • Your prison sentence

  • The collateral consequences of an offense

  • The availability of probation

  • Eligibility to early release

An offense such as continuous sexual abuse of a child is punishable by up to 37 years in prison.

Being convicted for a dangerous crime against a child, such as sexual abuse, results in the following collateral consequences:

  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender

  • Problems getting jobs

  • Strained relationships

  • Loss of friends

  • A damaged reputations

  • Difficulties finding housing

  • The victim could bring a civil lawsuit for the sexual abuse

You must notify businesses and organizations about any convictions when applying for employment or volunteer positions at organizations that interact with children if you are convicted of a dangerous crime against a child. Failure to disclose a conviction is a Class 5 felony.

Penalties and Sentencing

Sexual abuse is a crime of sexual misconduct if the victim was below 15 years. The crime is a Class 3 felony and a dangerous crime against a child. The punishment for this offense includes:

  • A minimum of 2.5 years in prison, five years presumptive in prison, and a maximum of 7.5 years in prison as the maximum sentencing

  • If you have a prior conviction for a serious felony, including another dangerous crime against a child, you get a minimum of eight years in prison, 15 presumptive years, and a maximum of 22 years in prison.

Sexual abuse of a child under 15 years is a Dangerous Crime Against a Child. Therefore, you must serve the full prison sentence before you are eligible for release.

If the victim of the offense is fifteen years or older, the crime is convicted as a Class five offense with the following penalties:

  • The court can impose probation with up to one year in jail or incarceration in prison for six months to two and a half years for the first offense.

  • If you have at least one previous prior felony conviction that is eligible, you could spend a maximum of 3.75 years in prison.

In addition to incarceration, the court will require you to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life if convicted for sexually abusing a person under 18 years. You are also banned from having contact with anyone aged 18 years or less, including your children without the consent of your probation officer. The probation officer will also order numerous tests before allowing you any contact with anyone aged 18 or younger.

Legal Defenses

  1. You Did Not Know the Victim’s Age

You commit sexual abuse when you engage in sexual contact with a person aged at least 15 years. In Arizona, no one under 18 years can legally consent to sexual activity. Arizona’s age of consent law aims to protect minors from sexual exploitation, based on the principle that individuals younger than 18 lack the maturity to understand the long-term implications of sexual intercourse. It is also a way to limit teen pregnancies, prevent STDs, and prevent sexual predation of these teens by older people.

However, if you did not know the victim’s age and they gave their consent to the sexual contact, you can defend yourself in court. If you could not have reasonably known the actual age of the victim; for instance, if they look older than they are or are in a place usually reserved for older people, then you can fight these charges.

An example:

  • Matt is at a bar, which serves adults aged 21 and over. He meets Marie, who is 17 but has a fake ID showing she is 22. She also looks like someone in her twenties. Later that night, Matt takes her home, and they have sexual intercourse.

In this case, Matt can argue that he had a reasonable belief that Marie was an adult and she consented to the sexual contact. If you are a person in a position of trust, you cannot use consent as a defense for sexual abuse. Some of the relationships that establish a position of trust include:

  • A parent, step-parent, foster parent, or legal guardian

  • A teacher, instructor, or coach

  • A priest or clergy member

  • A person who is romantically involved with the minor's parents, step-parent, legal guardian, adoptive parents, or foster parent

  1. Your Contact With The Victim Was Not Sexually Motivated

You can raise the defense that your contact with the victim was not sexually motivated. For example, if you brushed against it accidentally, your defense attorney can fight these charges to show that you touched the victim for a medical necessity or in an emergency.

  1. Police Misconduct

As an American citizen, you have certain protections under the constitution, including the right against self-incrimination. These protections exist even when you are under investigation for any offense.

To avoid violating your right, police officers must read your Miranda Rights to notify you of:

  • Your right to remain silent

  • Your right to ask for an attorney

  • Information you provide might be used against you in court

If the police do not read your Miranda rights, your attorney can file a motion requesting that the incriminating statements you made be suppressed.

Another common police misconduct in sexual abuse cases involves police officers ignoring your request to have an attorney present at the questioning. If these officers continue questioning you after you request an attorney, your defense lawyer can still file a motion to suppress the evidence they gathered.

Police officers are not required to subject you to any form of cruelty or threats during the question to coerce you into confessing to the crime. Coerced confessions are common in sex offenses, especially where physical evidence is limited. Police rely on confessions to charge you with an offense. In circumstances where they are desperate for a person to blame for the offense, they might force you to confess to the crime.

You can challenge a coerced confession, whether it is true or false. In most cases, coerced confessions occur due to inappropriate law enforcement tactics that subvert or undermine your free will. Your attorney can use one or more of three strategies to fight forced coercion.

The first strategy involves asserting your susceptibility to coercion. Factors such as age, maturity, low IQ, health (mental and physical), intoxication, and prior contact with law enforcement increase a defendant’s susceptibility to coercion. Your attorney will prove that these conditions impaired your ability to think clearly under the circumstances.

Expert witnesses are crucial at this point in studying the defendant and reporting their conclusions on the defendant’s ability to think clearly and their susceptibility to giving a coerced confession.

The second strategy involves identifying the location of the defendant at the time of the confession. A person who confesses to a crime at their home is less likely to have been coerced into confessing. Environments such as the police interrogation rooms are more intimidating to the accused.

Lastly, your attorney will examine the defendant’s interrogation techniques to determine whether the confession was coerced. In investigating the investigation techniques, the attorney will determine:

  • Whether the interrogating officers read a Miranda warning

  • If the officers granted your request for an attorney

  • Whether the officers respected your rights to remain silent

  • Who initiated the questioning

  • The length of the interrogation

Some of the tactics that could result in a coerced confession include:

  • Interrogation at gunpoint

  • Too many officers present in the questioning room during the questioning

  • Physical abuse of the accused

  • Threatening the accused to force them to confess

  • Threats involving the accused’s loved ones

  • Depriving the accused sleep, life-sustaining medication, using the restroom, water, or food

  • Holding the accused incommunicado

When your attorney uses the defense of a coerced confession, the prosecution usually has the burden of proof to show that the confession was voluntary. However, the standard of proof is lower as the prosecution only has to prove that you most likely gave the confession voluntarily.

  1. False Accusations

False accusations are common in sex offenses. In most cases, people believe the victim first and judge the offender as guilty without facts to support their beliefs. However, some “victims” use false accusations of sex crimes against people they have a grudge with. Divorce proceedings are a common trigger for these accusations where your partner might accuse you of having engaged in sexual abuse to win a custody battle.

Embittered spouses are likely to impress upon their younger children that they might have experienced sexual abuse in an attempt to win custody battles. An experienced sex crimes defense attorney will examine the child's testimony to determine their credibility.

While teens are not as impressionable as younger children are, they are likely to allege sexual abuse to meet their motives. For example, a child who does not want to stay with a step-parent might allege that they were sexually abused to get rid of the parent. Savvy sex abuse defense attorneys know the right cross-examination techniques to use to uncover inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s story to protect their clients from the impact of false accusations.

False accusations are damaging to your reputation, employment, and relationship with friends and family. They can easily land you in prison for an offense you did not commit. Therefore, you should secure the services of an experienced sex abuse defense attorney as soon as you are accused of sexually abusing someone.

A defense attorney will help you prove your innocence through cross-examining the “victim” and any witnesses.

Romeo and Juliet Laws

Arizona has Romeo and Juliet Laws that offer a limited exception to the general rule that makes it illegal to engage in sex with anyone under 18 years. The law allows consenting minors aged 15 or older to engage in consensual sex. The exception exists where:

  • The first party is aged 19 years or younger or is in high school and is not more than two years older than the minor.

  • The minor was 15, 16, or 17

  • The sex was consensual

This close-in-age exemption allows young couples to be intimate without the risk of serious felony charges. You can use the Romeo and Juliet laws to fight against charges of statutory rape or sexual conduct with a minor. The Romeo and Juliet law does not apply to sexual abuse charges.

Related Offenses

Some of the offenses related to sexual abuse in Arizona include:

  1. Sexual Assault

Sexual assault or rape is the offense of intentionally and knowingly engaging in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with another person without the victim's consent. The victim acts without consent if the defendant:

  • Coerced the victim using force or the threat of force

  • The victim was incapable of consenting to the act due to a mental disorder or impairment from alcohol, drugs, or sleep

  • The defendant deceived the victim about the nature of the crime

If you are charged with sexual assault, you can fight the charges through legal defenses such as:

  • The defendant consented to the sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact

  • Not sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact occurred

  • False accusations

Sexual assault is a Class 2 felony in Arizona with a presumptive sentence of seven years for a first offense. The court might impose an additional sentence depending on the circumstances of the offense. Some of the conditions that will lead to an increased sentence include:

  • Intentional and knowing administration of substances such as ketamine hydrochloride

  • Prior felony convictions

  • The offense involved serious physical injury to the victim

  • The victim was aged 12 years or younger

In addition to a prison sentence, you must register as a sex offender and be included on the Arizona sex offender registry.

  1. Aggravated Assault

ARS 13-1204 defines aggravated assault as assaulting another person through certain aggravating factors such as using a deadly weapon or causing serious physical injury. You are guilty of this offense if aggravating factors such as the following exist:

  • The victim suffered serious physical injury.

  • You used a dangerous instrument or weapon in the commission of the act

  • You used force that results in substantial loss or impairment of the victim’s body part

  • You cause the victim significant disfigurement

  • You commit the act after entering the person’s private home

  • You assault a person younger than 15 years

  • You commit the offense against a law enforcement officer, peace officer, firefighter, school employee, teacher, prosecutor, or public defendant engaged in their official duties, a healthcare provider or practitioner, or a park ranger.

You can fight these charges by asserting that:

  • You committed the act in self-defense as you reasonably believed you were in imminent danger of physical harm and applied the necessary force to protect yourself from that danger.

  • You did not use a deadly weapon or instrument

  • The victim did not suffer serious injury

Aggravated assault is a dangerous felony in Arizona. It can be punished either as a Class 2 felony or a Class 6 felony, depending on the case facts.

A severe form of aggravated assault is a Class 2 felony punishable by a maximum of five years in state prison. A less severe aggravated assault is a Class 6 felony with a maximum sentence of up to a year in state prison.

  1. Public Sexual Indecency

Public sexual indecency under ARS 13-1403 is the crime of engaging in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, oral sex, or bestiality in another person's presence with reckless disregard of whether you are offending the person. The court will determine whether you acted recklessly based on whether a reasonable person would be offended by the actions.

Fortunately, you can fight these charges with defenses such as:

  • You did not act recklessly

  • A reasonable person would not have been offended by your sexual activity

  • Mistaken identity

Public sexual indecency is a Class one misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail. If you commit the act in front of a minor aged 15 or less, the offense becomes a Class 5 felony, which attracts a penalty of up to two and a half years in state prison. If you have one or more prior convictions for public sexual indecency, you will be sentenced to a presumptive prison term of 10 years.

In addition, you will also have to register as a sex offender.

Note that public sexual indecency is a different offense from indecent exposure, as the former involves sexual acts committed in front of another person.

Find a Sexual Abuse Defense Attorney Near Me

Charges for sexual abuse in Phoenix, AZ, can have a lifetime impact on your career, relationships, and freedom. You could end up in jail and separated from your friends and family. Fighting sexual abuse charges is usually the best option to protecting yourself from these consequences. You will need the help of an experienced defense attorney who has worked on sex crime offenses. The attorney helps you by preparing a sound defense strategy and advising on the best action course throughout the criminal process. Arizona Sex Defense Attorney has worked with many clients facing sexual abuse charges in the state. You can book your free initial consultation at 602-922-3272 for our attorneys to review your case.