A Hutchinson Criminal Lawyer Looks at the Consent Defense

Of all the defenses in a sex crimes prosecution, such as lack of evidence and entrapment, consent may be the most potent and most dangerous one.

Consent is a potent defense because, if established, it completely unravels most sex crimes cases. If a McLeod County jury accepts the consent defense, it will return a not-guilty verdict. During pretrial negotiations, if it looks like the consent defense may be viable, prosecutors may offer a fire sale-type plea deal.

Consent is also a dangerous defense. During the trial, the defendant must typically testify. So, the prosecutor has a chance to cross-examine the defendant. And, pretty much anything goes in these exchanges. Moreover, if the defense does not resonate with the jury, the #MeToo jurors may react very harshly against the defendant.

There is a wildcard here. On a 66-0 vote, the Minnesota State Senate recently joined the House and closed the marital exception loophole in the sexual assault law. The change must now go to a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions. And, no one is sure what the final version will look like.

So, now more than ever, if the consent defense may be an option in your case, you need a highly-skilled Hutchinson criminal lawyer to break things down for the jury.

What Consent Is

According to Section 609.341, consent is “words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor.” To many McLeod County jurors, and many Hutchinson criminal lawyers, this definition is a bit out-of-step with modern human relations. Most people do not sign waivers before participating in sexual activities. So, “consent” is very rarely black and white.

But note that the statute includes “overt actions.” That could be something like going to the defendant’s room. In this instance, if another person saw the alleged victim and defendant leave together, the defendant may not have to testify. That’s usually a big plus for Hutchinson criminal lawyers. Of course, the alleged victim could always say that s/he changed her mind later and withdrew consent. But many jurors may have a hard time buying that story.

The consent can be limited. That’s why public flirting very rarely constitutes consent to perform a sexual act. These are two very different things.

What Consent Is Not

As the Legislature just made even more clear, a prior sexual relationship does not mean that the alleged victim consented this time. Consent is not an automatic payment arrangement. Just because you give consent once, you do not agree to future encounters.

Significantly, the statute only says that a prior sexual relationship is inconclusive. It does not say it’s irrelevant. If the alleged victim frequently and recently consented to sexual contact, that history puts circumstantial evidence of consent into a new light. A Hutchinson criminal lawyer may even be able to delve into past consent issues in the alleged victim’s background. This approach may be a way to bypass Minnesota’s rape shield law, at least in part.

Also according to the statute, consent is more than failure to resist. That’s assent and not consent. These are two different things. But once again, assent may be relevant. If the alleged victim assented and there is other circumstantial evidence, like intense flirting, a Hutchinson criminal lawyer may be able to employ a consent defense.

Alcohol and Consent

Many, if not most, of these incidents involve alcohol. Under the law, if the alleged victim was “incapacitated” or “helpless,” consent is impossible as a matter of law.

Words like “incapacitated” imply a very high BAC level of perhaps .22 or higher. As a very rough rule of thumb, .08 is legally drunk, .16 is stumbling drunk, .22 is passed-out drunk, and .28 is comatose, or perhaps even dead, due to alcohol poisoning.

So, if the alleged victim had two or three drinks, consent is still very possible. After four or five drinks, it’s a little harder to establish. Certain drugs may have a similar effect, especially something like Zolpidem (Ambien), Rohypnol (Ruffies), and other date rape drugs.

On a related note, physical restraint or natural unconsciousness (asleep) also makes consent impossible. Certain people cannot consent as a matter of law. This list includes children and people in certain professional relationships (e.g. psychiatrists and patients).

Rely on a Diligent Attorney

Consent is a very high risk/reward defense in sexual assault prosecutions. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson criminal lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.

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