Victims of rape not ‘mentally incapacitated’ if voluntarily intoxicated, Minnesota Supreme Court says
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision Wednesday that a person who is sexually assaulted while intoxicated isn’t considered "mentally incapacitated" if the person consumed alcohol or drugs voluntarily.
Due to the court’s decision, which was unanimous, a 2017 case now has the chance to be granted a new trial in court. According to court documents, Francois Momulu Khalil was convicted of third-degree sexual assault after he brought a woman to his north Minneapolis home and raped her on May 13, 2017. The woman was refused entry to a Dinkytown bar for being too intoxicated. The complaint states Khalil had offered to take her to a party but instead brought her to his residence.
The case led to a jury finding Khalil guilty of third-degree sexual assault due to the woman being ruled as mentally incapacitated.
According to Minnesota law, third-degree sexual assault is defined as the following:
"A person who engages in sexual penetration with another person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if any of the following circumstances exists:(d) the actor knows or has reason to know that the complainant is mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless."
In addition, "physically helpless" defines as "a person is (a) asleep or not conscious, (b) unable to withhold consent or to withdraw consent because of a physical condition, or (c) unable to communicate nonconsent and the condition is known or reasonably should have been known to the actor."
However, with the opinion offered Wednesday, Justice Paul Thissen wrote that the lower court’s definition of mentally incapacitated in this case "unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute" because the victim was intoxicated before she met Khalil.
Thissen wrote the decision announced Wednesday.
"A person under the influence of alcohol is not mentally incapacitated unless the alcohol was administered to the person under its influence without that person’s agreement," Thissen stated.
Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, is the chief author of legislation to comprehensively update Minnesota’s criminal sexual conduct (CSC) statute, which includes recommendations of the CSC Statutory Reform Working Group, including one to close the intoxication loophole.
"Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice. Our laws must clearly reflect that understanding, and today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights the urgency lawmakers have to close this and other loopholes throughout our CSC law," Moller said. "Prosecutors, survivors, and advocates have identified the problem and the CSC Working Group did incredibly tough work to identify the solutions. Minnesotans who experience unthinkable trauma deserve to see the Legislature take action on this immediately."
Moller told 5 Eyewitness News on Thursday the decision adds urgency to pass her reform legislation.
"I’m just thankful this decision came out while we were in session so we still have time to get this bill passed this year," Moller said. "Our current law doesn’t really give prosecutors the tools that they need to prosecute these cases where we have people who are preying on victims who are intoxicated and then sexually assaulting them."
The Minnesota Supreme Court stated as part of the opinion, "nearly half of all women in the United States have been the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime — including an estimated 10 million women who have been raped while under the influence of alcohol or drugs."
The House Public Safety Committee approved Moller’s legislation on Feb. 18 and the House Judiciary and Civil Law Committee approved it on March 11. The bipartisan bill has not received a committee hearing in the Senate.
Several rape survivors testified at the Feb. 18 hearing, including a woman who was stunned when charges were dropped against the man accused of raping her after slipping her a date rape drug. Those drugs quickly leave the body’s system and can’t be detected in blood or urine samples after just a couple hours.
"When I met with the prosecutor on my case about why charges against my rapist were dropped he informed me it was the result of how the current rape laws are written," Katie Kelly told the committee. "I was voluntarily enjoying some cocktails that evening before I lost consciousness which meant they could not prove I was involuntarily intoxicated as the current law states."
Rep. Marion O’Neil, R-Maple Lake, co-author of Moller’s bill, added the following statement on the Supreme Court decision:
"This ruling underscores the need to change our criminal sexual conduct laws to reflect the reality that all victims unable to consent need justice, not just those who have been forcibly intoxicated. I have been working hard on this issue for years, and along with the CSC Working Group and other advocates, we have put forward a bill with solutions to some of the problems identified over the past years. It is time now to pass these solutions so that no victim ever has to be denied justice over a technicality."