Spousal Rape: A Criminal Offense in all U.S. States

Under the English common law, which is the source of many traditional laws in the U.S., it was not legally possible for a man to be accused of raping his wife. In support of this position, then jurist Sir Matthew Hale explained in 1736 how marriage implied permanent consent that could not be retracted.

The belief that a man could never be held guilty of raping his wife stood for centuries until in 1979, when legal attitudes about the concept changed due to a pair of separate cases. One of these cases, which may have been the first case that led to a spousal rape conviction, involved a bartender in Salem, Mass., who broke into the house that he used to share with his estranged wife and then forced himself on her. Since the incident involved invasion and sexual abuse while in the middle of a divorce, it was not hard to judge the case as one incidence of marital rape; regardless, this case was a precedent to so many other spousal rape convictions during the 1980s and the 1990s, and the major reason why today, spouses are no longer excluded in state criminal codes’ definition of “rape,” why saying “no” to one’s husband is no longer a ground for divorce, and why spousal rape is declared illegal in every state in the U.S.

According to a criminal defense lawyer from the firm Horst Law, married individuals may be charged with spousal rape if they engage in sexual penetration that is unlawful because it is alleged that the defendant was armed with a weapon, caused serious bodily harm, or the couple has been separated and at least one partner has filed for either divorce or separate maintenance. A charge of spousal rape can be elevated to aggravated sexual assault if the defendant was particularly vile, cruel, or otherwise inhumane and either caused serious bodily harm or was armed with a weapon.

To be accused of a crime can change your life forever. A conviction is so much worse for, besides the penalties, it will also affect your future personal, community and professional life. You should realize, however, that an accusation simply means that you still have the time and any means accessible for a strong defense that will enable you to protect your rights and future and which may even help you earn a verdict of “not guilty.” Being defended by a highly-competent criminal defense lawyer, who knows what evidences to gather and how to gather these, may just be what you need in a case as serious as spousal rape.

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