Sophie Corbett is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
CW: Sexual assault
On March 24, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a person cannot be found guilty of a felony for sexually assaulting a person who voluntarily consumed drugs or alcohol.
In 2017, a Minnesota man was convicted of third-degree criminal conduct by a jury after raping an intoxicated woman. In Minnesota, third-degree criminal sexual conduct is defined as sexual penetration with another person when the actor knows or has reason to know that the complainant is “mentally incapacitated.” However, because the victim was already voluntarily drunk when she met her attacker, the state Supreme Court ruled that she could not be considered “mentally incapacitated.”
Though I was at first shocked and angry about the ruling, I realized that the ruling draws attention to a jarring weakness in the law.
In order to understand what happened in this case, it’s important to understand the role the court plays in interpreting the law.
In Justice Paul Thissen’s opinion, he wrote, “If the Legislature’s intended meaning is clear from the text of the statute, we apply that meaning and not what we may wish the law was or what we think the law should be.”
Ultimately, the court’s duty is to interpret the law as it is written, not how they think it should be written.
What the Minnesota Supreme Court did here is they pointed out a weakness in the state’s rape statute: “the intoxication loophole.”
Currently, Minnesota’s rape statue states that for someone to be considered mentally incapacitated, they must be “under the influence of alcohol, a narcotic, anesthetic, or any other substance, administered to that person without the person’s agreement, lacks the judgment to give a reasoned consent to sexual contact or sexual penetration.”
The statute states that in order to be mentally incapacitated, drugs or alcohol must be ingested involuntarily. In this specific case, the victim voluntarily got drunk before she met her attacker. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s third-degree criminal conduct conviction because of the wording of the rape statute. The defendant still committed a crime under Minnesota law, and will be retried under a different statute.
Many are concerned about this ruling, and what this means for sexual assault cases involving alcohol in the future— and for a good reason. As a woman, it’s terrifying that a ruling like this could occur. Being drunk is not consent and it’s incredibly upsetting that Minnesota’s rape statute could be interpreted this way. The decision did not come as a surprise to Minnesota lawmakers, who were aware of the intoxication loophole.
Thankfully, the Minnesota legislature is taking steps to fix this problem. With many national news outlets picking up the story, Minnesota lawmakers are under pressure to act fast and amend the rape statute, which ultimately is a good thing. Two Minnesota state representatives have already introduced a bipartisan bill that would close the intoxication loophole.
The situation in Minnesota is the result of an incredibly outdated rape statute. Outdated laws such as this can be detrimental and stand in the way of justice.
As college students in California, we can feel very far removed from a Supreme Court decision in Minnesota. However, what we can learn from the situation in Minnesota is the importance of reviewing out-of-date legislation. Our government should be actively working to repeal old laws such as this one. When we want to affect change and speak out against injustice, we need to put pressure on our representatives and let them know. If there hadn’t been such a national outcry over this Supreme Court ruling, then the response from Minnesota lawmakers might have been different. Ultimately, our laws should be a reflection of our country’s values and morals, and when they aren’t that way, something needs to change.