Mar 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Minnesota court rules felony rape charge doesn't apply if victim got willingly drunk

picture of Paul Thissen

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Thissen said the initial third-degree criminal sexual conduct ruling did not count in this case. Photo: Marlin Levison/Star Tribune via Getty Images

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a man who had sex with a woman while she was passed out on his couch cannot be found guilty of felony rape because the victim got herself drunk beforehand.

The big picture: Minnesota is one of the many states that says that for a victim to be too mentally incapacitated to give consent, they must have become intoxicated against their will, such as if a person secretly drugged someone's drink, The Washington Post reports.

Context: Francios Momolu Khalil in 2017 picked up a woman from a Minneapolis bar and took her back to his home. The woman "blacked out" on Khalil's couch and woke up to find him allegedly sexually assaulting her, per The Post.

  • A jury in 2019 convicted Khalil of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. His lawyers appealed the decision saying that the charge was not applicable because that statute applies when the victim took drugs or alcohol without their consent, while the woman in this case had taken five vodka shots herself prior to meeting Khalil.
  • If a person is convicted of the third-degree charge, they could face up to 15 years in prison, pay a fine of no more than $30,000, or both.

The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction and gave Khalil a new trial, arguing that the prosecution's explanation of the charge "unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute," state Justice Paul Thissen wrote, per the Duluth News Tribune.

  • The court said that Khalil could be charged with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor. If convicted, he would face up to one year in prison, a fine of no more than $3,000 or both.

Worth noting: The Minnesota House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would change the language of the third-degree criminal sexual conduct statute, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

  • It would make it a crime to have sex with someone who is too incapacitated to give consent, regardless of how they got to that state.

Our thought bubble, via Axios’ Torey Van Oot: Expect lawmakers in the divided Legislature to face growing public pressure to fix the statute before they adjourn in May.

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated to clarify that the accused cannot be charged with felony rape.

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