Michigan Sex Crimes - First Degree CSC vs. Third Degree CSC

As a Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Defense law office, we often receive questions regarding confusion between First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct and Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan. Don't worry, we're here to help...

Most people understand that First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC for short) is more serious than Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. But that’s where the understanding ends for many people. We often hear questions such as:

What is the difference between First Degree and Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct under Michigan law? I’ve tried to read the laws, and I’m completely confused.”

If this sounds like youl, you are not alone. These laws can be very confusing. In-fact, we published an in-depth article addressing some of these questions in October, 2020 entitled "Criminal Sexual Conduct: A Fine Line Between First Degree & Third Degree CSC." One purpose of that article was to demonstrate how even a slight factual distinction in the allegations against the accused can be the difference between a First Degree CSC charge and a Third Degree CSC charge, and we recommend reading it as a follow-up to this article.

RELATED: Can my charges be increased to First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct?

This article is for those who want a few, very simple bullet-points to help them understand the basic differences between Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st degree and Criminal Sexual Conduct 3rd Degree.

First Degree and Third Degree CSC are often roped together because they both involve claims of sexual penetration, rather than just touching. The definition of “sexual penetration“ under Michigan law includes a lot more than what we typically think of as “penetration“ based on our common-sense experience. Regardless, the definition of "sexual penetration" doesn’t change between one Degree of CSC and another.

Obviously, there always has to be something making the sexual penetration unlawful for it to be Criminal Sexual Conduct. There are many of these “somethings,“ but to keep it simple, they generally fall into three or four basic categories. Here are three easy examples of these categories to look at:

  • Age
  • Force or Coercion
  • Condition of the Alleged Victim
  • Relationship Between Accuser and Accused

This is just one of several ways of breaking it down, but the point is, the way each Degree treats each of these "somethings" can be used to demonstrate the basic differences between the Degrees. If you're a bit confused by that statement, read on...

The Michigan Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct law, MCL 750.520d, makes sexual penetration unlawful when combined with just one of those additional “somethings“ making it unlawful.

The Michigan First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct law, MCL 750.520b, includes one of the same "somethings" that would make sexual penetration a crime under the Third Degree law, plus - and here is the difference - some additional fact or circumstance on top of that which makes it more serious, often referred to as an “aggravating circumstance.“

In other words, whereas CSC 3rd Degree has only one "something," CSC 1st Degree has two "somethings." It is helpful to think of 3rd Degree as a small circle and 1st Degree as a slightly larger circle that completely includes the smaller circle. This is why in many instances, 3rd Degree CSC is referred to as a “lesser included offense“ of First Degree CSC (even though there are examples when First Degree can be charged without including something that would be Third Degree). For example:

AGE:

  • It is Third Degree Criminal Sexual Contact to engage in sexual penetration with someone who is "at least 13 years of age and under 16 years of age," regardless of whether it is consensual or not. In other words, one of the parties being below the legal age of consent would make otherwise lawful sex into a crime.
  • Now if we go even further and add the “aggravating circumstance“ that the person is even younger, as in "under 13 years of age," it now becomes First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct (there are circumstances where "at least 13 years of age and under 16 years of age" can be First Degree, but we're sticking with generalities in this article).

FORCE OR COERCION:

  • It is Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct to engage in sexual penetration with someone by using “force or coercion,“ even if they are of legal age. It is helpful to think of “force or coercion” as being opposite of consensual sex. More advanced readers may recognize that this is the traditional, “common law“ definition of “Rape.“ Modern Michigan Sex Crimes laws no longer use the title “Rape."
  • Following the same pattern as above, if we add the additional factor that the sexual penetration by force or coercion also caused the alleged victim to suffer “personal injury,“ or if the accused is "aided or abetted by 1 or more other persons," then it now becomes First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. Again there are other examples, but this is demonstrative of the general scheme.

CONDITION OF THE ALLEGED VICTIM:

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE ACCUSER AND ACCUSED:

  • It is Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct to engage in sexual penetration with someone who is is "related to the actor by blood or affinity to the fourth degree," regardless of age (or consent, for that matter) This is commonly referred to as the crime of "incest," although it is not technically called that today.
  • If we add an additional factor, such as that the person is "at least 13 years of age and under 16 years of age" in addition to being related by blood or affinity to the fourth degree, it now becomes First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct.

Of course, the penalties for First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan are more serious than thepenalties for Third Degree CSC because of those additional factors or “aggravating circumstances.“ First Degree CSC is punishable by up to life, sometimes I with a mandatory minimum sentence, and other factors. Third Degree CSC is punishable by up to 15 years and a host of other consequences.

A detailed discussion of the various penalties and consequences for the different Degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan is beyond the scope of this article. The fact that Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree carries significantly more severe penalties is the part that seems to be easy for people to understand, but hopefully now do you have a clear understanding of exactly why that is.

As with any legal matter, if you or someone you know is facing charges for Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree or Criminal Sexual Conduct 3rd Degree in Michigan, contact your Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Defense expert at Prain Law, PLLC.

Top-rated Criminal Defense Attorney Brian J. Prain of Prain Law, PLLC is here to help. Brian has been named one of the 35 Best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Detroit by Expertise.com, one of the Nations Top 1% by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, one of Michigan’s Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDA), a D Business Magazine Top Lawyer, one of the Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Michigan by The National Trial Lawyers, featured in Super Lawyers, and much, much more.

Unlike “general practitioner“ Criminal Defense Attorneys, Brian specifically concentrates on defending those accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct and other Michigan Sex Crimes. You can reach Prain Law anytime at 248-731-4543 or via email using our Contact Form.

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Prain Law, PLLC is focused only on the types charges featured on our website. This helps us deliver the decisive, effective advocacy for which our clients know us. We only serve individuals currently under investigation or who have a current case pending in court. Our firm does not represent injury victims, defendants who have already taken a plea or have been sentenced, or those seeking to expunge a criminal record. We do not respond to anyone who is not involved in a pending investigation or who has a court case for a type of charge we do not handle, but we wish you the very best of luck.