An Oklahoma bill to ensure sex crimes do not go unpunished because victims were unconscious or intoxicated when they occurred headed to the governor on Monday after receiving strong support in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Lawmakers rushed to amend the current law after Oklahoma‘s highest criminal court dismissed charges in March against a Tulsa teenager accused of forcing an intoxicated girl to perform oral sex.
The criminal appeals court ruled that the boy’s actions could not be considered criminal, since the state’s law on forcible oral sex does not address sexual assault cases involving people who were either unconscious or intoxicated when they were victims of abuse.
Although the state’s rape laws allow for punishment for forcible sexual intercourse for a victim who was unconscious or intoxicated at the time of the act, the state’s current definition of “forcible sodomy” does not include those conditions.
“Sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation,” the criminal appeals court said in its ruling.
The dismissal of the charges provoked outrage across the state, drawing widespread condemnations from lawmakers and the case’s prosecutor. Oklahoma Rep. Scott Biggs called the judges’ ruling a “grave error,” and introduced an amendment to add language to the law to address unconscious victims.
“I am horrified by the idea that we would allow these depraved rapists to face a lower charge simply because the victim is unconscious,” Biggs said in a March statement. “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.”
Michelle Anderson, dean of City University of New York’s law school, told The Guardian that the law’s lack of specificity surrounding intoxication “created a huge loophole for sexual abuse that makes no sense.”
The case concerned a 2014 incident, during which a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl were both drinking at a park in Tulsa with friends, according to the Oklahoma Watch. The intoxicated girl was brought to the boy’s car while stumbling and drifting in and out of consciousness, her friends testified, then driven to her grandmother’s house by the boy.
The girl’s family then brought her to a hospital, where the staff conducted a sexual-assault examination and found the boy’s DNA on her. The girl told the police she had no memory of anything that happened after she left the park.
The forcible sodomy charges had initially been brought against the boy in April 2015, and were dropped last November. When prosecutors appealed the decision, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously upheld the original ruling.
The bill amending the law passed 39-5 in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate on Monday, the Associated Press reported. Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, has not said whether she will sign the bill.
The measure imposes a punishment of up to 20 years in prison and will take effect immediately if the governor approves it.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alan Crosby)