Are California's rape laws in need of overhaul?

This is pretty shocking. A state appeals court has just overturned the rape conviction of a man alleged to have pretended to be a woman’s boyfriend and then had sex with her.

See the American Bar Association Journal’s take here: “California appeals court rules sex by impersonation is not rape when the woman is unmarried.”

What’s most interesting about this isn’t the overturning of the conviction. It’s the reason the court did so. I am not familiar enough with this particular case out of Riverside County to have any sort of opinion on whether the defendant actually was guilty of the crime. There very well may be sufficient evidence to prove he was wrongfully convicted. I’m not going to even pretend to have full knowledge of that. However, the issues the case brings up about the current anomalies in state laws are incredibly interesting.

Here’s the thing: apparently the state’s current rape laws are written so that technically, a man who impersonates a woman’s boyfriend to have sex with her is not considered to be guilty of rape. However, were she married and he pretended to be her husband to have sex with her, that would be considered rape.

From the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ decision:

A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend.  Has the man committed rape?  Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.”

Just think about this for a minute. Pretty mind-blowing, right? The state’s law clearly needs re-writing if it can be used in such a manner. The statute uses the word spouse. Is spouse in this case only narrowly defined as the person to whom you are legally married? What about domestic partnerships?

See the court’s full decision here.

The prosecution relied on two theories to convince jurors that rape was committed. One of the theories had to do with the woman being asleep, and the second had to do with the idea that it was rape because trickery/impersonation was involved. The appeals court’s ruling essentially says that the latter theory can’t support a rape conviction because of the way the law is currently written. The prosecution may only retry the case on the former theory, the appellate justices wrote.



6 responses to “Are California's rape laws in need of overhaul?

  1. I don’t know what is more strange, that it’s not defined as rape, or that you know your boyfriend is leaving, and have no idea that a different person got in your bed to have sex with you.

  2. Link is busted above. reasoning used in the opinion to make a distinction about whether he was impersonating a boyfriend or husband is pretty weak and would have a good chance of being reversed at the next level or in another case. In this particular case, it will not end up being argued to a conclusion as the guy can and most probably will be re-convicted on the fact she was asleep. The opinion does recommend a change in the way the statute is worded.

  3. And yes, you are correct about that Bob. I think the issues the decision raises though are quite interesting.

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