Oklahoma found itself in the national spotlight this week following the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to uphold a lower court’s ruling to dismiss a controversial oral sodomy charge. On March 24, the Oklahoma appellate court found that the lower court was right to dismiss the charge against a male teenager accused of orally raping a female teenager, because the girl was drunk and unconscious at the time of the alleged incident. Under Oklahoma law, neither intoxication nor unconsciousness are listed among the five criteria describing the crime in question.
As CNN reports, at least one Oklahoma lawmaker is promising changes to the law. Representative Scott Biggs has announced plans to “rush a fix” to the law’s loophole through the Oklahoma State Legislature.
“I am horrified by the idea that we would allow these depraved rapists to face a lower charge simply because the victim is unconscious.”
According to Biggs, who was formerly a prosecutor, the judges who ruled on the matter “got bogged down on details and lost sight of the big picture.”
“I think the judges made a grave error, but if they need more clarification, we are happy to give it to them by fixing the statute. Unfortunately, legal minds often get stuck on questions of semantics, when it is clear to most of us what the intent of the law is.”
Representative Biggs said on his Facebook page that he has already implemented plans to push the changes to the statute through the state’s legislative process quickly. According to the lawmaker, he added the proposed changes to the Oklahoma law to another bill he’d already sponsored.
The Oklahoma court’s decision to stand by the dismissal of the charges against an accused rapist and deny his victim the justice she and her family desperately sought has resulted in harsh scrutiny for the state.
Heartbroken and outraged at the ruling in OK. Our courts and laws cannot dismiss the violence women face. https://t.co/68qdiAbJNW
— Cecile Richards (@CecileRichards) April 28, 2016
— Miles Rakestraw (@MilesRakestraw) April 28, 2016
— Gallop-a-Gus (@ajnrules) April 29, 2016
While many of the responses to the highly-publicized ruling have been critical of the Oklahoma court that handed it down, it’s important to realize that courts don’t make laws; rather, it’s the job of the court to enforce the law as it’s written.
In this particular case, the alleged sexual assault took place in 2014 and involved a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl. According to court documents, the pair were classmates and had been drinking and smoking marijuana at an Oklahoma park. The female ultimately became so inebriated that she was unable to walk. Later, it would be determined that her blood alcohol was over four times the legal limit. Two friends reportedly had to carry her to the suspects car, and it was there that he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex.
The suspect told police that the alleged victim had consented to the sexual contact, but she told police she had no memory of what had transpired. The New York Times reports that the male’s DNA was found on the girl’s body and around her mouth. The suspect was charged with first-degree rape and forcible oral sodomy, but an Oklahoma court dropped the rape charge due to lack of evidence.
An Oklahoma district court judge later dropped the forcible oral sodomy charge as well, citing the wording of the state law.
“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation.
“We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”
The Oklahoma Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with the lower court, saying in its ruling that “unconsciousness” and “intoxication” are not mentioned in the Oklahoma forcible sodomy law.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Benjamin Fu, called the court’s decision “absurd.”
“I don’t believe that our legislators or our citizens believe that we as prosecutors or as a public should be focusing on the conduct or choices that a victim made in order to determine whether or not an assailant should face criminal liability.”
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision was unpublished, which means that it’s can’t be used as legal precedent in other cases, but Fu is worried that it may still be used to “inform similar defenses” in other sexual assault cases.
The decision by the Oklahoma court illustrates the patchwork of sexual assault laws in the United States, many that result in legal gray area that can cause victims to go without justice. For example, in many states, being intoxicated can make you legally incapable of consenting to sexual contact as opposed to being punished for your inability to say “no.” Women’s rights activists and others are calling on the Oklahoma court’s decision to serve as a catalyst to make changes to sexual assault laws that leave victims with no legal recourse and/or laws that blame victims for their sexual assault.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]