Each jurisdiction determines its own definition of a crime. As a result, what is considered fourth degree sexual assault in one jurisdiction may not be the same in another jurisdiction. This type of sexual assault, however, is usually an assault of the lowest level or severity.
In most jurisdictions, crimes are divided into two broad categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are the more serious crimes. The possible penalty for conviction of a felony is usually a year or more in prison, while the possible punishment for a misdemeanor is generally a year or less in jail. Depending on the severity of the crime, sexual assault may be a felony or a misdemeanor.
Within the felony and misdemeanor categories, crimes may be further divided into degrees and levels of severity by dividing the crimes into class A, B, C, and D felonies or misdemeanors. A crime charged as class A felony will carry a harsher possible penalty than a crime charged as class D felony. The degree will generally directly correspond to the level of felony or misdemeanor that the crime is charged as. For instance, in most jurisdictions, a fourth degree sexual assault makes the crime a class D felony or a class A misdemeanor.
Sexual assault may be charged as first, second, third, or fourth degree sexual assault, with first degree being the most serious and fourth degree being the least serious. The prosecutor and district attorney or equivalent will determine with what degree of assault the defendant will be charged. What makes a crime a fourth degree sexual assault will vary by jurisdiction. A sexual assault in the first degree, as an example, may be defined as sexual intercourse with someone without his or her consent and with the use of a weapon or causing serious bodily harm. Fourth degree sexual assault might be simply sexual contact without consent or with consent that was obtained as a result of a position of authority the offender had over the victim.
The penalty for a conviction for fourth degree assault will be determined by the jurisdiction in which the charges were filed. In most jurisdictions, a fourth degree sexual assault is a class A misdemeanor or a class D felony. In addition to any length of incarceration or probation, a conviction for fourth degree assault may also require the offender to register as a sex offender.