The New York Criminal Law Blog

The Difference Between Assault and Forcible Touching in N.Y.

Where does New York draw the line between simple assault and a sex crime?

Or, to phrase it a different way, when does touching become a sexual offense?

In New York, forcible touching is a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the offender would have to register as a sex offender.

A misdemeanor is lower than a felony, but it can still come with jail time.

The charge of forcible touching is when a person forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person. The purpose must be to degrade the victim, or to gratify the offender's sexual desire (see NY Pen. Code Section 130.52).

Compare that to a charge of third degree assault in New York, which is also a Class A misdemeanor. A person is guilty of third degree assault if he or she causes physical injury to another with intent to cause injury to the victim or to a third person.

Also under this category: a person who causes injury when engaging in reckless activity, or who injures through use of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument by criminal negligence.

So while forcible touching and third degree assault are both Class A misdemeanors, they are two very different crimes.

In the assault crime, there has to be some intent to cause harm and there has to be an injury caused.

But in the sexual crime of forcible touching, there is not as much of a need for a physical injury, nor the desire to harm. In fact, an offender is guilty of this offense if he touches the other person merely to satisfy the offender's sexual urge.

In some cases, both charges could be compounded. That happens in many sexual assault cases, where there's more to the crime than just the offensive sexual touching alone. For example, if the offender also ended up causing physical harm to the victim, the charges could be added up.

Take a look at our related resources below for more information on assault, battery and sexual crimes.

Related Resources: