September 19, 2023
Only weeks after Brock Turner’s six-month sentence for sexual assault charges sparked outrage across the nation, another light sentence for sexual assault has made national news. This time, the offender was sentenced right here in Colorado.
Austin James Wilkerson, a former student at the University of Colorado, was arrested for sexually assaulting a former classmate while she was intoxicated. In May, he was convicted on one count of sexual assault of a helpless victim and one count of unlawful sexual contact.
Wilkerson was given two years in jail under work release. This means that Wilkerson can leave prison during the day to attend school and return at night. He was also sentenced to 20 years of sex offender-specific probation. In other words, he will have to attend treatment and therapy sessions and is required to register as a sex offender. After 20 years, he may be able to be removed from the registry.
Although criticism has been drawn for Wilkerson’s relatively short jail sentence, some have argued that being placed on the sex offender registry is form of incarceration in its own right.
Colorado Guidelines for Sexual Assault Sentencing
If two years in jail seems like a long time behind bars, you may be surprised to learn that it is far below our state’s recommendation for sentencing for sexual assault.
Wilkerson was convicted on one count of sexual assault of a helpless victim and one count of unlawful sexual contact. Colorado law classifies sexual assault as a felony. Depending on the number of aggravating factors present in the case, a sexual assault charge can be a class 2, 3, or 4 felony.
Penalties for class 4 felonies include 4-12 years in prison and/or fines between $2,000 and $500,000. Class 4 felony convictions also require three years of mandatory probation. Penalties for class 2 felonies go up to 48 years in prison, with fines of up to $1,000,000.
Remember that this is only initial sentencing. All sex offenders in Colorado must register as a sex offender immediately after being released from prison, and continue to do so for decades.
Defenses against Sexual Assault Charges
In the specific case of Austin Wilkerson, the district attorney asked for between four and 20 years in prison. So how did Wilkerson receive the “short” sentence that he was given? And how can this case affect your defense strategy? Let’s break it down.
According to CNN, Judge Patrick Butler believed that Wilkerson showed remorse for his actions, and rather than giving out punishment, wanted to see “whether he truly can or cannot be rehabilitated.”
So showing remorse and the possibility of seeking rehabilitation helped Wilkerson receive his sentence. Those are two common defenses used to fight sexual assault charges. Below I will explain how they work further and describe a few other defense strategies:
Remorse. Maybe the act you committed was a lapse of judgment. Maybe it was truly a misunderstanding or a mistake, but you know the damage you caused. If you can prove to a judge that you are sorry for the crimes you committed, you may be able to receive a shorter sentence.
Rehabilitation. There is an alternative to punishment: rehabilitation. If a judge believes you should receive treatment rather than be punished with incarceration, you may receive a lighter sentence. Talk to your attorney about options for rehabilitation and how you can present these options to a judge as an alternative to sentencing.
Consent. The most effective defense strategy in a sexual assault or unlawful sexual contact case is proving to a jury that consent was given during the course of your contact with the victim. However, be careful of depending on this strategy if alcohol or drugs is involved in the case.
False Accusation. You may be falsely accused of sexual assault for multiple reasons. You could have been mistaken for someone else, especially if the attack happened by someone the victim did not previously know. In this case, you may want to provide an alibi to show that you were not present at the time of the attack.
If you were falsely accused of sexual assault by someone out of spite, you and your lawyer may have to poke holes in the prosecution’s story or attempt to invalidate any proof that the prosecution has against you.
The above defense strategies may or may not be appropriate for your specific case. Charges and penalties for sexual assault are serious, but a lighter sentence (or even a dropped case) is possible with the right attorney by your side to fight for your freedoms.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.