Change in Federal Definition of Rape May Change the Way Rape Crimes Are Dealt With in West Virginia, Other States

the_capitol.jpgThe Obama administration has announced that it is expanding the FBI’s definition of rape, which has been in place for eight decades. Key changes include dropping a requirement that the victim must physically resist the attacker, and expanding the definition to include male victims.

The result will be that more people would be considered rape victims in the FBI statistics, but otherwise, state and federal crime laws will not change. However, rape statistics, as part of overall crime statistics, are used to determine how much money lawmakers allocate toward prevention.

The original definition of rape was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” The revised definition states that rape is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object,” without the victim’s consent of the victim. In addition, the new definition states that rape is “oral penetration by a sex organ of another person” without consent. The revised definition does not specify gender, and includes the rape of someone incapable of giving consent, either because of the influence of drugs or alcohol, or because of age. The victim no longer needs to put up resistance in order for the act to qualify as rape.

Because of the changes, the number of reported rapes will likely rise, but it is unclear exactly how much. Vice President Biden claimed that the revised definition was a victory for men and women who had suffered, but who went without justice for 80 years.

It is always helpful for a West Virginia criminal defense attorney to be aware of changes in the law — for rape or any other crime — when defending clients charged with crimes in this state. The new legal definition, while long overdue, will obviously pose new challenges for criminal defense attorneys. Behavior once thought to be “acceptable” would now be unacceptable, and people might find themselves charged with crimes that would not have been crimes in previous years.

Preparing for changes, and educating clients on changes, is just part of the work of an experienced criminal defense attorney. We at the Wolfe Law Firm have over 20 years of experience in criminal defense work at both the state and federal level. On the federal level, our work includes white collar crime, drug distribution, and weapons cases, while on the state level, we defend against charges such as malicious assault and homicide. Whether the change to the federal rape definition will affect the Wolfe Law Firm’s work, and to what extent, remains unseen. However, it will have a profound effect on the way the crime of rape is viewed in general, and may have an effect on certain aspects of criminal defense, such as the type of evidence required or the types of penalties. Although state and federal laws are not supposed to change, the effect of the new legal definition will likely be felt even at the state court level. As Vice President Biden points out, the change is long overdue. That said, even rape suspects deserve a good criminal defense attorney who is prepared to defend his or her rights.