January 11, 2021 By Stephen Klarich

Is the U.S. Government Required to Prove that a Victim Did Not Consent In Sex Crimes?

In U.S. v. Price, the defendant was on an overnight flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles. The defendant moved from his assigned seat to an open seat adjacent to the victim who was asleep and touched her genitals without her permission. The defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that the government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew the victim did not consent. The Court rejected the appeal stating that the very purpose of the statute was to penalize those who sexually prey on victims on the seas or in the air within federal jurisdiction. After being arrested, the defendant said “it sure is going to be my job not to touch a woman” whom he does not know. The defendant’s conviction and sentence were affirmed.

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Sexual Contact with Another Person without Permission

According to 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b) as part of the Sexual Abuse Act of 1986 which is a statutory plan to criminalize certain sexual contact. According to 224(b), it is a federal crime to knowingly engage in sexual contact with another person without their permission on an international flight.  Pursuant to 18  U.S.C. § 2246(3), sexual contact is defined as the intentional touching either directly or “through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person”. The jury instruction provided that: in order for the defendant to be found guilty, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. the defendant knowingly had sexual contact with the victim;
  2. the sexual contact was without the victim’s permission; and
  3. the offense was committed in a place within a federal jurisdiction.

Statutory interpretation is generally based on the statute’s language, purpose, history, and precedence. For the language of the statute, the court looks to the intent of Congress.  Normally, the courts read a criminal statute that introduces elements to crime and applies the word “knowingly” to each element. 


Why was the defendant’s conviction upheld?

For the defendant in Price, he admitted that he knowingly had sexual contact with the victim.  According to Price, he thought the victim consented by touching his hand. The victim did not speak or understand English so they were not able to communicate effectively according to Price. He also argued that the statutes were not interpreted correctly by the court and that they required the opposite interpretation. The court found that following Price’s logic would produce absurd results. Therefore, his conviction was upheld. 


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