The local Target store in Tahoe Park was the scene for strange events recently. Law enforcement officials allege that a 20-year-old man (name withheld to protect the accused’s privacy) who was originally held by store security for shoplifting had also allegedly sexually assaulted several women while in the building. He was eventually arrested, not only on the shoplifting and sexual assault charges, but also for false imprisonment.
In California, sexual assault (CA Penal Code 243.4) makes a wide range of activities illegal. This broad net covers any touching of the private parts of another person illegal, if it is for the express purpose of gaining sexual gratification. While the specifics of this recent case at Target remain unclear as of yet, more than one woman has come forward to accuse the young man of having behaved in an inappropriate manner.
This particular crime is a California ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to prosecutors to determine whether they will treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony. A misdemeanor sexual assault charge will likely result in up to 1 year in county jail and a $2,000 fine. On the other hand, a felony conviction on sexual assault charges could end in up to 4 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. The difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge depends on the particular circumstances of the case. However, felony charges are usually reserved for those instances in which there has been force involved, even if that ‘force’ amounts to the exploitation of someone who is living in an inherently coercive environment (like a prison, nursing home, or mental health facility).