Story at a glance
- The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned a ruling against a convicted sex offender on the grounds that the victim had become intoxicated before meeting their assaulter.
- Nearly half of all women in the U.S. have been the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime, including an estimated 10 million who have been raped while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- As of 2016, intoxication provisions in 40 states did not include situations in which someone chose to consume drugs or alcohol.
According to the Minnesota Supreme Court, a person who is sexually assaulted while intoxicated does not fit the designation for a more serious charge if he or she consumed the alcohol or drugs voluntarily, an opinion that altered the fate of both convicted sex offender Francois Momulu Khalil and his victim.
Four years ago in May 2017, a woman identified in court documents as J.S. met Khalil outside a bar in Minneapolis. At the time J.S. was 20 years old and had already taken five shots of vodka as well as a prescription pill. Khalil invited her and a friend back to his home where she “blacked out” on his sofa before awakening to find him sexually assaulting her, according to court documents.
The ruling at the time convicted Khalil of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct because the victim was drunk and a jury found her to be “mentally incapacitated.”
Now, almost four years later, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Khalil cannot be found guilty of his previous charges due to his victim choosing voluntarily to consume alcohol before she met her abuser, despite his conviction being upheld by a lower appeals court. The Minnesota Supreme Court has also granted Khalil the right to a new trial.
In the decision written by Justice Paul Thissen, the state Supreme Court said that the lower court’s definition of what it means to be mentally incapacitated in this case “unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute” due to the victim’s alcohol use prior to meeting Khalil. In order to meet the court’s definition, the alcohol must be administered to the person under its influence without that person’s agreement, such as being slipped drugs into someone’s beverage or being forced to consume alcohol.
Now, according to the Minnesota Supreme Court, what was once a third-degree conviction that could mean as many as 15 years behind bars and a fine of up to $30,000 might now be shifted to a fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is a gross misdemeanor and if convicted could mean up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
Many are concerned about the implications of this ruling, such as Democratic state Rep. Kelly Moller. Moller said this decision by the court exemplified the urgent need to update the state’s criminal sexual conduct statute.
“Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice,” Moller said. “Minnesotans who experience unthinkable trauma deserve to see the Legislature take action on this immediately.”
Marion O'Neill, a Republican state representative and co-sponsor of Moller's bill, said in a statement that "it is time now to pass these solutions so that no victim ever has to be denied justice over a technicality.”
While it may seem surprising that such a technicality could overturn a case of rape in Minnesota, the truth is that a majority of states say that in order for a victim to be considered to be mentally incapacitated, they must have become intoxicated against their will.
The Minnesota House of Representatives is now considering Moller’s bill, which would change the language of the statute to make clear that it’s a felony to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to give consent, regardless of how they got that way.
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