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California Court Overturns Julio Morales Rape Conviction Because Victim Was Unmarried

Justice Thomas Willhite

Justice Thomas Willhite

A California court has overturned the conviction of a man who raped a sleeping woman who thought he was her boyfriend, citing an 1872 law stating only married women are legally protected against such assaults.

State law does not explicitly protect unmarried rape victims from attackers posing as boyfriends, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled as it overturned the rape conviction against Julio Morales. Morales had been sentenced to three years in prison for entering a sleeping woman’s bedroom late at night after her boyfriend had gone home and forcing himself on her.

The victim stated that her boyfriend had been in the room when she fell asleep and it wasn’t until a ray of light shined on his face that she realized he wasn’t who she thought he was. Morales’ defense had argued that he believed the sex was consensual because the woman was responsive to his kisses and caresses.

According to the court:

A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend. Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.

The court actually admitted that in such cases, rape is only rape if the rape victim is married.

Morales’ first trial ended in a hung jury. He was tried again and convicted of rape of an unconscious person. Jurors were instructed that they could return a guilty verdict if the victim was sleeping, unconscious or unable to refuse sex, or if the assailant lied about his identity. But under state law, an assault committed under such impersonation does not constitute rape.

In overturning the verdict, the appeals court said it “cannot discern from this record whether the jury convicted defendant on the correct or incorrect theory.”

“We reluctantly hold that a person who accomplishes sexual intercourse by impersonating someone other than a married victim‟s spouse is not guilty of the crime of rape of an unconscious person,” Justice Thomas Willhite wrote.

A similar statute resulted in the overturning of an Idaho rape conviction in 2010, a case which led that state to change its law.

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