An Update on the Worst Court Ruling Ever

Ashby posted about this a few days ago, but in case you missed it:

A California appeals court, relying on an outdated statute that prohibits someone from pretending to be someone’s husband but not their boyfriend in order to obtain sex, overturned a man’s conviction for rape because the woman he had sex with was unmarried.

But there’s some good news on the horizon. Fortunately, a pair of bipartisan lawmakers in California have proposed legislation to close this ridiculous loophole. Very serious question: what the hell is going on?! Why has the past year been ‘The Year In Which We Make Excuses For Rape?’ The only statement about rape that makes any sense is this one: DON’T RAPE! Short of that, it’s all bad.

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  • West_of_the_Cascades

    Not to be all contrarian (ok, maybe to be contrarian) – I’m happy about the appeals court decision because it reflects what ought to be a basic principle in the criminal justice system, which is that you construe criminal statutes strictly, put the burden on the prosecution to prove all the elements of the crime, and give the defendant the benefit of the doubt. It’s a damned shame this doesn’t happen more in other contexts, like drug possession for example, and also a shame that people reading the article (without reading the actual court opinion) make the mistake that this is an “excuse for rape.”

    There’s no question that the law AS IT WAS WRITTEN didn’t allow for a conviction on the basis of having sex with someone on the pretense of being his/her boyfriend, and the prosecution appears not to have pled as an alternative ground for the rape charge that the victim was sleeping — and so there was this last paragraph in the news story Ashby linked to:

    “The one silver lining to this decision is that the court did not end the
    case outright. The defendant will be retried and can be reconvicted if a
    new trial determines that he had sex with Jane while she was sleeping —
    a likely conclusion given the defendant’s admission that he did so.”

    What this highlights is that saying “DON’T RAPE” in the abstract is meaningless until what “rape” means is written into the criminal statutes. Different states have different definitions, most of which approximate the colloquial meaning, but some of which focus on the use of force, some focus on the absence of consent, some a mixture. As always, Wikipedia is helpful – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_regarding_rape.

    But this appellate court decision shouldn’t be seen as an “excuse for rape” – it’s more a wakeup call that the legislature has to fix the statute and the prosecutor has to do a better job of making sure all of the grounds for conviction are covered.

    My main point is: don’t blame the court and call this the “worst court decision ever.” Courts sometimes have to work with what the legislature and the prosecution give them, especially if they’re doing their jobs. And absolutely an appellate lawyer should be looking to force the prosecution to do its job. That’s what the adversarial system is all about, or at least is supposed to be about if criminal defense lawyers do their jobs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bernard.rieux.33 Bernard Rieux

      Have to agree. This is an awful and severely archaic statute, not court decision. The judges made it entirely clear why they couldn’t, in their basic duty to apply state law, overlook the fact that the concept of Rape By Impersonation isn’t rape under California statute if the person being impersonated isn’t the victim’s spouse. That’s the law; a court can’t change that.

      (For whatever it’s worth, the claim in the blog post you’re quoting—a claim that’s been made in other places as well—that the conviction was overturned “because the woman he had sex with was unmarried” isn’t true. The problem is that the perpetrator wasn’t impersonating the victim’s husband, not that she’s not married. If she happened to have been married-but-separated, or in an open marriage, or just cheating on her husband with a boyfriend, impersonating that boyfriend in order to induce her to have sex would not, under current California statute, constitute rape. Even though, under those circumstances, she would be married. Again, that’s a horrific result from a radically outdated statute, but it’s not the court’s fault.)

  • mrbrink

    The judge who overturned the charge of rape didn’t have to use an 1882 statute to determine if that girl was in fact raped.

    In the decision, he wrote:

    “The fundamental purpose of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the lawmakers so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. . . . [W]e do not construe statutes in isolation, but rather read every statute „with reference to the entire scheme of law of which it is part so that the whole may be harmonized and retain effectiveness.‟ [Citation.]” People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894, 898-899.)”

    Not only did the judge take the long way around the legal neighborhood to arrive at a very narrow interpretation, he absolutely avoided the spirit of the law, as well as a deference to “the entire scheme of the law” maybe because he lacked the intellectual ability, or the willingness, to argue that “concealment” of identity during a rape is well within the realm of the statute, and more than enough to uphold a conviction of rape.The judge made a judgement call, and a very poor one at that.

    And if the judge had actually considered the spirit of the law, he may have rightfully concluded that the statute was established to protect husbands from being accused of raping their wives, more so than protecting the rights of rapists.

    It was a terrible call, and not only highlights the weaknesses of statutory law, but more importantly– the very narrow interpretations of the law by judges who think they’re too smart for the law’s own good.

    The judge’s ruling invented that loop hole out of his own narrow interpretation.