In a move that has shocked and angered many, an appeals court in California has overturned a rape conviction saying it was not rape because the "victim was not married".
Julio Morales was arrested on rape charges in 2009 after he allegedly sexually assaulted an 18-year-old woman.
According to the victim, she and her boyfriend had discussed engaging in sexual relations on the night the alleged rape occurred, however they both agreed to wait. The victim's boyfriend then went home and the victim fell asleep. She was awoken later by a man kissing her and believed the man to be her boyfriend. The appeals court document states that the room was dark and that Morales was posing as the victim's boyfriend. The man, later identified to be Morales, began having sexual intercourse with the victim. When the victim realized that the man she was having sex with was Morales and not her boyfriend, she tried to push him away. However, Morales continued to engage in sexual intercourse with the victim.
Morales was charged with rape and when his case went to trial, jurors were told they could find him guilty of rape under two conditions. One condition was either the victim was sleeping, unconscious or unable to refuse sex. The second condition was that Morales misled or lied to the victim about his identity. However, under current California law, rape by fraud or impersonation is applicable only if a woman is married.
Morales was convicted of rape but appealed the conviction to the California Second District Court of Appeals. On Thursday, the three judge appellate panel reversed the conviction. Their reasoning according to a USA Today report was due to the court being unable to "discern from this record whether the jury convicted defendant on the correct or incorrect theory."
In his opinion, Justice Thomas Willhite wrote:
"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."
He goes on to say:
"Therefore, 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 Willhite called what happened to the victim "despicable", but said California's law left the court with no choice but to remand the case back to the lower court for retrial.