Rape in the First, Second, and Third Degree

Pierce County Rape in the First, Second, and Third Degree

The offense of rape under Washington’s criminal law covers any act of sexual intercourse without a person’s consent. An act may be considered rape if it occurs by force; by threat of force; or by taking advantage of a position of power over a person, a person’s disability, or a person’s impaired condition. The state’s burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is the same in a rape prosecution as in any other criminal case, but a rape case has additional risks for a defendant. A defendant may face significant public exposure and scorn, even if the underlying charges are false or the case results in acquittal. You should consult with a Washington criminal defense attorney who knows and understands Washington’s criminal laws, and who can help you prepare your defense and protect your constitutional rights.

Definitions in Washington’s Criminal Code

Several terms used in Washington’s criminal laws are critically important in a rape case. “Sexual intercourse” has its regular meaning, but may also refer to any penetration of a person’s intimate areas, regardless of their gender.

The most serious rape charges involve allegations of “forcible compulsion,” which generally means the use of overwhelming force, or merely the threat of overwhelming force. This includes threats to harm or kidnap the alleged victim or a third person.

“Mental incapacity” refers to any mental condition that, at the time the alleged offense occurs, prevents a person from understanding the “nature or consequences” of sexual intercourse. Such a person is legally considered incapable of consent.

“Physically helpless” refers to any condition, including lack of consciousness, that prevents a person from signaling consent or lack of consent. This could apply to a person who has suffered an injury, or who is blacked out due to alcohol or drugs.

“Consent” means a person’s agreement, through words or conduct, to engage in sexual intercourse.

Burden of Proof in Rape Cases

The state must prove that sexual intercourse took place between the defendant and the alleged victim, and that the alleged victim did not give consent or was unable to do so. It must also prove the circumstances of the alleged offense that support the degree charged by the state. Washington law defines rape in the first through the third degree.

First Degree Rape

First degree rape involves forcible compulsion and may occur with the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon, kidnapping, infliction of serious bodily injury to the alleged victim, or burglary. It is a class A felony, which allows for up to life imprisonment.

Second Degree Rape

Second degree rape occurs in cases that involve forcible compulsion but do not rise to the level of a first degree offense. It may also occur when an alleged victim is mentally incapacitated or physically helpless, or when the defendant is in a position of authority over the alleged victim, such as in a healthcare or eldercare facility. It is also a class A felony. A defendant may offer evidence of a reasonable belief that the alleged victim was not mentally incapacitated or physically helpless at the time of the alleged offense as a defense to prosecution.

Third Degree Rape

If an alleged offense does not meet the definition of first or second degree rape, but still involves “clearly-expressed” lack of consent or threat of harm to the alleged victim’s property, the state may charge it as third degree rape. This is a class C felony, carrying up to five years’ imprisonment.

If you have been charged with an alleged sex offense in Tacoma, Pierce County, or elsewhere in western Washington, you should consult with an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer. At the Law Office of Timothy L. Healy, we have defended people charged with sex crimes and other alleged offenses throughout Washington. We have obtained significantly reduced sentences, probation, acquittals after trial, and outright dismissals for our clients. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.