The Minnesota Supreme Court said that a man who had sex with a woman while she was passed out on his couch can’t be convicted of rape because the woman willingly got drunk beforehand. The ruling came in the case of Francois Momulu Khalil, a 24-year-old Minneapolis man who was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct because the victim was drunk and a jury considered she was “mentally incapacitated.” Now Khalil will be able to have a new trial in the case.
The woman, identified in court documents as J.S., met Khalil outside a bar in Minneapolis in May 2017. The woman had been denied entry into the bar because she was intoxicated after taking five shots of vodka and a prescription narcotic. Khalil invited her to a party but when she got there she realized there was no one else there. She “blacked out” on Khalil’s couch and says she woke up to find him sexually assaulting her.
Although Khalil’s conviction had been upheld by an appeals court, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled he can’t be found guilty of rape. In the decision written by Justice Paul Thissen, the state Supreme Court said the lower court’s definition of mentally incapacitated in this case “unreasonably strains and stretches the plain text of the statute” because J.S. was drunk before she met Khalil. The way the state Supreme Court sees it, Khalil could be charged with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is a gross misdemeanor and if convicted could mean up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. That’s quite a contrast to the third-degree conviction that could mean as many as 15 years behind bars and a fine of up to $30,000.
The state Supreme Court pointed to the Legislature for how the statute was written. Thissen writes that while there is a “commonsense understanding” that the term “mentally incapacitated” could include someone who drank voluntarily but “cannot exercise judgment sufficiently to express consent” to sex, that’s not how the state’s criminal sexual conduct statutes were written.
As surprising as it may be, Minnesota is hardly an outlier. A majority of states say that in order for a victim to be considered to be mentally incapacitated they must have become intoxicated against their will, notes the Washington Post. The Minnesota House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would change the language of the statute to make clear that it’s a felony to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to give consent, regardless of how they got that way. Kelly Moller, a Democratic state lawmaker, issued a statement after the court ruling urging the passage of the bill. “Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice. Our laws must clearly reflect that understanding, and today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights the urgency lawmakers have to close this and other loopholes,” she said.