The #MeToo era has substantially changed the way many people view consent in sexual relationships. Relationships that were once considered consensual, at least in the eyes of some, are now considered assault, at least in the eyes of some.
The shifting public attitude has also triggered some shifts in Ramsey County criminal courts. A few years ago, the consent exceptions in Section 609.345 were little-used technicalities. Now, largely thanks to the introduction of FNEs (Forensic Nurse Examiners), these consent exceptions are prosecuted with increasing regularity. To many FNEs, “maybe” means “no.” So, they look for loopholes to bring charges in apparently consensual relationships.
There’s a difference between #MeToo consent and legal consent. Out in the world, sexual consent has moral and ethical implications, as well it should. But in criminal court, consent is strictly a legal issue. In Minnesota, this legal definition is “words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor.” Moral issues, as well as the motivation behind the consent, are usually irrelevant.
That being said, there are some situations when legal consent is irrelevant in a sex crime prosecution. If the consent defense is unavailable, St. Paul criminal defense lawyers have other options, such as a procedural irregularity or a lack of evidence.
In Minnesota, the age of consent is 16, but there are many loopholes and exceptions. No matter what they say or do, underage alleged victims cannot consent as a matter of law. End of story.
There are two major Romeo and Juliet exceptions in Minnesota. Consent is an issue regardless of the alleged victim’s age if the defendant was no more than thirty-six months (three years) older than the alleged victim. Alternatively, the alleged victim could be 16 or under and the defendant could be no more than forty-eight months (four years) older. That’s assuming there was no uneven authority issue. More on that below.
Additionally, Minnesota has a rather unique affirmative defense. If the defendant was less than 120 months (ten years) older than the alleged victim and the defendant reasonably believed the alleged victim was of age, consent might be a defense. In most other states, mistake as to age is only a punishment mitigation factor.
As mentioned, the alleged victim’s motive to consent is usually irrelevant. If the defendant used force or coercion to obtain consent, that’s different.
Assume Vick has a history of promoting girls he sleeps with and disciplining girls who turn him down. If Sarah sleeps with Vick because she hopes to get a promotion, her consent is relevant. If Sarah sleeps with Vick because he made a veiled threat to discipline her (e.g. “I’d hate to see you suffer a career setback”), a St. Paul criminal defense lawyer might not be able to use the consent defense.
According to the statute, “mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless” individuals cannot consent to sexual activity. Generally, the big question for St. Paul criminal defense lawyers is how the alleged victim was incapacitated.
The incapacitation could be a genetic condition or an illness which is beyond the defendant’s control. These individuals are obviously incapacitated.
But what about other situations? Let’s change the facts in the above example. Now assume Vick and Sarah are co-workers. They go out and they both drink. If Sarah has two or three drinks, most Ramsey County jurors would say she was impaired but not incapacitated. If she has more than that, she might be incapacitated. That’s especially true if the state has a witness who saw Sarah being helped into a car or otherwise in an incapacitated state.
If the alleged victim was under 18 and the defendant was at least four years (forty-eight months) older, the alleged victim’s consent is irrelevant if the defendant held a “current or recent position of authority” over the alleged victim. Examples include pastor-worshipper, doctor-patient, supervisor-employee, and perhaps lawyer-client.
The aforementioned mistake as to age defense is unavailable in these cases. That’s generally the case in Ramsey County sex crimes.
A brief word here about age and probable cause. Assume Sarah was 17 and Vick was 21. The arrest would probably hold up in court even if Vick was only forty-seven months older than Sarah. A St. Paul criminal defense lawyer might be able to get the charges dismissed on the grounds of an unlawful arrest, but probably not.
Consent is not always a defense in Minnesota sex crime cases. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul criminal defense lawyer, contact Capitol City Law Group, LLC. Go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.