Sexual assault is one of the most serious criminal offenses a person can be charged with in Wisconsin, and law enforcement officials and prosecutors take these cases very seriously. A conviction for this type of sex crime can lead to severe consequences that can impact your life in countless ways. If you have been charged with sexual assault or a related offense, it is important to understand the potential penalties you may face if you are convicted. In these situations, representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial, and your lawyer can advise you of your rights, help you understand your options for defense, and advocate for the best possible outcome to your case.

Please note that this section discusses sexual assault charges in which the victim is an adult. Charges involving underaged victims are not discussed elsewhere.

Under Wisconsin law, there are four degrees of sexual assault, with first-degree being the most severe and fourth-degree the least. The following definitions are useful in understanding the severity of a sexual assault claim.

  • “Great bodily harm” means injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or other serious bodily injury.

  • “Sexual intercourse” means any intrusion, however slight, by any part of a person’s body or of any object, into the genital or anal opening of another. Emission of semen is not required. Oral sex, including cunnilingus and fellatio, are both considered sexual intercourse.

  • “Sexual contact” includes a sexual act done for the purpose of sexual humiliation, degradation, arousal, or gratification

Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault

This offense involves sexual contact, such as intentional touching or groping, that is committed without consent. It is a Class A misdemeanor charge and carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Third-Degree Sexual Assault

This offense generally involves cases in which a person allegedly had sexual intercourse with a person without receiving consent. Third-degree sexual assault is a Class G felony, and it carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, and/or fines of up to $25,000.

Second-Degree Sexual Assault

Second-degree sexual assault is a Class C felony, and it carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

Second-degree sexual assault applies to instances that would be third- or fourth-degree sexual assault but they have an aggravating factor. For instance, anyone who engages in sexual intercourse or sexual contact without consent can be charged with second-degree sexual assault if (1) the assault involves the use of force, violence, or threats; (2) the assault results in injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, or emotional trauma requiring psychiatric treatment; or (3) the accused was aided and abetted by one or more other people.

In addition, engaging in sexual intercourse or sexual contact can result in charges of second-degree sexual assault if done with (1) a person who was unable to give consent because of a mental illness or deficiency; (2) a person who was incapable of giving consent because they were intoxicated; or (3) a person who was unconscious.

First-Degree Sexual Assault

The most severe level of sexual assault under Wisconsin law is first-degree sexual assault. First-degree sexual assault is a Class B felony, and it is punishable by a maximum of 60 years in prison.

First-degree sexual assault generally involves engaging in sexual intercourse or sexual contact without a person’s consent if the defendant caused great bodily harm to the alleged victim or if the assault resulted in pregnancy. First-degree sexual assault charges may also apply if (1) the alleged victim was over the age of 60; (2) the assault involves a dangerous weapon; or (3) the accused was aided and abetted by one or more people when committing sexual acts through force or violence.

Apart from fines and imprisonment, sexual assault convictions can have a severe impact on an individual’s life. Those who are convicted will be required to register as sex offenders, and they may face stigma, social ostracization, and difficulty finding employment and housing. A felony sexual assault conviction may also lead to the loss of certain rights, such as the ability to vote or possess firearms.