A recent rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio has grabbed national headlines and thankfully educated teens and young adults everywhere about the extreme danger of alcohol and sex. Despite their near-celebrity status as high school football players in a football-obsessed town, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond were found guilty Sunday of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. Both defendants were sentenced to a minimum of one year in a youth correctional institute and will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Mays received an additional year for transmission of nude photos, to be served after his rape sentence is completed.
Part of the attention on this case has been due to the fact that this is not your typical “no means no” rape, but rather the Judge found that the victim was too intoxicated to consent. Ohio and most states have laws similar to New Jersey’s, which provides that a person is guilty of First Degree Aggravated Sexual Assault if the person has sex with someone whom he knows or should have known is mentally incapacitated. The offense is elevated to First Degree, with exposure of 10-20 years in State Prison, compared to a lack of consent Sexual Assault which is Second Degree, carrying 5-10 years in State Prison. Both offenses also carry Megan’s Law registration as a Sex Offender for life. In terms of juveniles like the Ohio case, the exposure in New Jersey would be 4 years, but the State could also move to try them as adults.
These cases are often hard to prove, since the victim’s ability to recall the events is obviously hampered by the intoxication, and the witnesses’ testimony as to the victim’s level of intoxication tends to vary. Being intoxicated alone is not sufficient to meet the standard of “mentally incapacitated,” and the State must prove that the defendant “knew or should have known” the victim was in that state. However, in the Ohio case, the arrogance and ignorance of these young men was on full display through an astonishing nearly 350,000 text messages, plus hundreds of thousands of pictures, videos, and chats, all pertaining to the events of that night and many simultaneous to the alleged acts.
Our own Tim Farrow recalls ten years ago in his early days as Prosecutor the difficulties he encountered in proving a similar case. “I’m sure if that case were tried today, I too would have had an arsenal of texts and other evidence at my fingertips, and it would have been a totally different ball-game.” So hopefully this case serves as a lesson for all young people out there that when it comes to parties, alcohol, sex, and cell phones, it is a totally different ball-game, and an extremely dangerous one at that.
For more on the Steubenville, Ohio case, see link below: