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The Minnesota Supreme Court recently ruled that a felony rape charge does not apply if the victim was voluntarily intoxicated.
The decision stems from a case involving a Minneapolis man convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. The defendant, Francios Momolu Khalil, was accused of taking an intoxicated woman to his home and sexually assaulting her.
The unanimous decision reversed the lower court's ruling by rejecting the lower court's definition of a "mentally incapacitated person," stating that it “unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statue." To meet the definition stipulated in the statute, the court stated, the alcohol must be given without the person's agreement.
Minnesota is one of many states that don't treat intoxication as a barrier to consent if the victim was intoxicated voluntarily. This means that if someone chooses to get drunk, under Minnesota law, they will not be considered incapable of giving consent.
The law specifically states that a person is only considered “mentally incapacitated" and unable to consent if “they've been given alcohol or other substances against their will."
In general, rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse. It could be committed by the threat of harm, actual physical force, or under another form of duress. Non-consensual sex could be any situation where the victim did not say “yes." So, rape by intoxication refers to a situation where the victim is so intoxicated that they can't say no even if they don't want to have sex.
States vary, however, on how they treat situations where the victim chose to consume alcohol or drugs. As of 2016, 40 states don't cover situations in which someone chooses to consume drugs or alcohol, according to Brooklyn Law Review.
The court's role in the judicial system is to interpret the law. So, if there is a clear statute that defines what constitutes consent, courts are obliged to apply that definition. The case at hand is a good example of this.
In this case, the Minnesota Supreme Court emphasized the fact that courts don't have the mandate to make law. That power rests with the legislature. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Paul Thissen wrote, “If the legislature's intended meaning is clear from the text of the statute, we apply that meaning and not what we may wish the law was or what we think the law should be."
A few states have passed legislation to close the loopholes regarding rape involving intoxication. These laws make voluntary intoxication a barrier to consent. California, for instance, criminalizes sexual intercourse with an intoxicated person if the accused "knows, or reasonably should have known" that the victim was too intoxicated to consent. Other states like New York are working on passing legislation that would fully prosecute sexual assaults even if the victim voluntarily took alcohol or drugs.