When and Why Should I Hire a Sex Crime Attorney?

Seek legal representation as soon as possible

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 12, 2022

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If you have been accused of a sex crime, it is imperative to get legal advice from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Criminal charges are not the only potential consequences of alleged sex crimes. “They carry a lot of factors that can be critical and life-changing,” says Trey Pettlon, a criminal defense attorney in Kansas, “including prison, a great deal of public shame, and lifetime civil consequences.”

Many sex offenses are inexpungable, meaning they “will be on [the offender’s] record and publicly accessible for the rest of their lives.”

Sex offenses require an immediate need for legal representation, Pettlon adds. “People come into my office all the time who should have gotten a lawyer well before they did.” In addition, accused individuals will give “a statement to law enforcement … and the statement is disastrous [for their case].”

There are myriad reasons why a person would want to consult with a lawyer before they give an interview to law enforcement, Pettlon says. For one, “sex offenses have consequences that are much more severe than other kinds of crimes. I’ve seen people who were really intelligent and articulate unwittingly destroy their cases because they didn’t get a lawyer.”

To avoid disastrous outcomes and get the best possible defense, getting an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible is essential.

Types of Sex Crimes

Sex crimes are serious offenses that can bring severe penalties. Below are several of the most common types of sex crimes:

  • Sexual assault. Sexual assault is a general term that may refer to several nonconsensual sex acts, including unwanted touching or penetration, sexual battery, or sexual abuse.
  • Rape. Generally, state laws define rape as any nonconsensual vaginal or anal penetration or other sex act involving penetration with a body part or object. Under most modern rape laws, marriage, gender, and use of force are irrelevant. This means that spousal rape is prosecutable. It also means that rape does not have to involve force or be perpetrated by a man.
    • Date Rape. Date rape is simply rape that occurs on a date. Beyond the fact that it occurs during a date, date rape is not defined differently than rape in general and does not carry less severe penalties.
    • Statutory rape. Statutory rape refers to having sexual relations with individuals under the legal age of consent (typically between 16-18) who are considered legally incapable of giving consent.
  • Child pornography. Both state and federal laws criminalize the production, distribution, or possession of pornographic materials involving individuals under 18. Child pornography charges can carry severe penalties, including lengthy prison sentences.
  • Child molestation. Child molestation refers to any sexual acts perpetrated against a child.
  • Indecent exposure. Indecent exposure laws generally forbid displaying one’s genitals or private parts in public. State laws differ on whether prosecutors must prove that defendants intended to offend or arouse others with their display of nudity. Some states criminalize any public nudity, while others specifically say the nudity has to be for a lewd or indecent purpose.
  • Lewd conduct. Lewd conduct is a subset of indecent exposure that goes beyond nudity to involve sexual conduct (such as intercourse) in public.


Penalties for sex offenses can range from misdemeanors to first-degree felonies and carry fines or lengthy prison sentences.

A few factors determine the severity of penalties, including:

  • The nature of the offense
  • Repeat offenses
  • Any aggravating circumstances, such as the use of violence

Using the example of sexual battery under Kansas law, Pettlon says the factors that can elevate a misdemeanor to a felony are:

  • If the victim is overcome by force or fear
  • If the victim was unconscious or physically powerless
  • If the victim is incapable of giving consent because of a mental deficiency or due to the effect of alcohol or a drug (and the condition was known or reasonably apparent to the offender)
  • Age of alleged victim

When it comes to the age of the victim, it varies from state to state. In Kansas, Pettlon says, “a person can consent to have sex at the age of 16, but in Missouri, they can’t until they’re 17.”

Differences in the legal age of consent can create odd circumstances, Pettlon adds. “For example, someone could have sex with their 16-year-old girlfriend in Kansas, but if they have nude photos of them, that would be child pornography under federal law.”

Sex Offender Registration

In addition to the possibility of serving a prison sentence, convicted sex offenders may also be required to register with their state’s sex offender registry.

Depending on the state and nature of the sex offense, sex offenders may have to register for life. In other cases, registration may be required for several years. Inclusion on a sex offender registry can thus be a lifelong stigma, making it difficult to get a job, buy a home, or travel freely.

Typically, sex offenders have to provide their:

  • Name (including any aliases)
  • Current address
  • Current occupation
  • Convicted offenses

Some states may also require social security numbers, fingerprints, or other information. The individual’s basic information (name, address, occupation) is posted on the state’s sex offender registry for the public.

The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SONRA) requires states to maintain their sex offender registries for monitoring and tracking sex offenders upon their release from prison.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a National Sex Offender Public Website where the public can search sex offender registries nationwide. By linking state sex offender registries, SORNA also allows law enforcement to collaborate on tracking sex offenders.

SORNA makes failure to register as a sex offender or update one’s information a federal crime. Penalties for failing to register and update can include fines and prison time.

Consequences Beyond Criminal Liability

Being accused of a sex offense can bring more than criminal charges. You may also face:

  • Reputation damage. Being accused of a sex offense often brings significant reputational harm and lifelong stigma. Having a sex crime conviction on your record can permanently impair your ability to get a good job, go to school, or purchase a home in some areas.
  • Civil liability. In addition to criminal charges for alleged sex crimes, accused individuals may also face civil liability if the alleged victim sues for money damages.

Why Getting A Lawyer Is Necessary

If you have been accused of a sex offense, there are many advantages to getting an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney:

  • Will understand the criminal law in your state, including exceptions and defenses to sex crimes
  • Can formulate the best defense strategy after hearing the facts of your case
  • May be able to have some sex offense charges reduced or even dropped
  • Can give you guidance on how to minimize the reputational harms from accusations of a sex offense

“Whether it’s a misdemeanor, whether it seems like an insignificant event or not, if there’s any sexual connotation to the act, it is critical that the accused, as soon as they become aware of the accusation, contact a lawyer experienced in handling sex offenses and defending people on sex offenses in their particular jurisdiction, whether state or federal court,” Pettlon says.

Questions for an Attorney

If you have been accused of a sex crime, seek legal representation from an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer. These are criminal law attorneys who specialize in sex crime defense.

Many attorneys provide free consultations to prospective clients. These consultations allow the attorney to hear the facts of your case and for you to determine if the attorney meets your needs.

To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:

  • What are your legal fees, and what billing options do you offer?
  • How many years of experience do you have as a criminal lawyer?
  • What is your track record with sex offense cases?
  • What are the penalties for the offense I am charged with?
  • What are my best defenses?

You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

Look for a sex offense attorney in the Super Lawyers directory if you are facing sex offense accusations.

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