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Sex crime charges in Massachusetts: FAQs

The first question is likely the most common: what exactly is a sex crime? The answer will vary depending on the state, but in general a sex crime occurs whenever one individual forces sexual contact on another or in situations where the state believes that one party to the act was unable to consent. This can occur when one party is underage or lacks mental capacity for consent.

Criminal charges can include rape, prostitution, indecent assault and battery, sexual assault, indecent exposure, and possession of child pornography. It is important to note that any bodily contact can qualify — physical penetration is not required.

What does consent mean for the purposes of these criminal charges?

Consent often plays a major role in these allegations. Part of the frustration with these laws is the fact that Massachusetts law does not provide a clear definition to consent for the purposes of sex crimes. Instead, to find how consent applies to a specific case the accused would need to look at the details of the allegations and compare previous case law.

We do know, as noted above, that the question of consent can come into play based on the age of the parties involved and with questions of mental capacity. Even with this guidance there is no easy answer to the question of consent. The details of the legal analysis used to come to an answer will depend on the specifics of the case.

What are the possible penalties if convicted?

The penalties vary depending on the allegations. Rape convictions can come with up to 20 years or, depending on the details of the allegations, as much as life imprisonment in a sate prison. This conviction will also come with a lifetime requirement to register as a sex offender.

Other convictions can include the following penalties:

  • Prostitution. A conviction for solicitation can come with up to 2 ½ years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.
  • Indecent assault and battery. If against an individual over the age of 14, the penalty can include imprisonment of up to 5 years in a state prison. If against an elder or person with a disability, the conviction can result in imprisonment of up to 10 years in a state prison. If against a child under the age of 14, the court could give a penalty of up to 10 years in a state prison.
  • Indecent exposure. The court could sentence the convicted to up to 6 months imprisonment and a $200 fine.
  • Possession of child pornography. A first conviction comes with up to 5 years imprisonment in a state prison as well as a $10,000 fine.

The penalties increase with repeat offenses or if other actions led to additional charges, such as use of a weapon.

Will I need to register as a sex offender?

Massachusetts law generally requires registration as a sex offender for those convicted of many sex crimes including:

  • Rape
  • Drugging a person for intercourse
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Various indecent assault and battery charges

These are just a few examples of the dozens of convictions that can lead to required registration.

Those who are required to register may be tempted to avoid registration or provide a fake address or name to reduce the risk of recognition. The social stigma that comes with these crimes is huge, so the temptation is common. However, a failure to register can come with serious consequences. These can include imprisonment for up to 2 and a half years in a house of correction or five years in a state prison as well as a fine of up to $1,000.

What are possible defenses to allegations of a sex crime?

Defenses are available and should be tailored to the situation. Options can include that the act never occurred or that all parties consented to the act.


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