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State v. Webster , Court of Appeals, First District, Hamilton County

2014 -Ohio- 4142

Nature of the case:

Unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

Defendant was an NFL player who was convicted of raping a minor between September – December 2009. The defendant was thirty-one years old at the time of the incident, and the victim was fifteen. She knew the defendant because she babysat for his children. The defendant admitted having sexual intercourse with the victim. In his defense, the defendant moved to introduce evidence of the victim’s false claims of sexual relations with other NFL players. He argued that evidence about the victim’s past sexual activities with males of a certain age would show that the defendant could reasonably have believed the victim was over the age of consent. The court excluded evidence of sexual conduct but allowed cross-examination of the victim on the issue of whether she fabricated past sexual relationships. The defendant was convicted and on appeal argued that the court erred in excluding evidence regarding the victim's past sexual activities with other males on the grounds that it would have explained his mistaken perception of the victim's age. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

Under Texas law, it is unlawful to have sexual conduct with a minor when the offender "knows the minor is thirteen years of age or older but less than sixteen years of age, or the offender is reckless in that regard." Evidence of the victim having sex with other males would not have affected the prosecution's proof that the defendant knew, or was “reckless” with regard to knowledge that the victim was under the age of consent. Thus, the state’s interest in protecting the victim’s sexual privacy outweighed the probative value of the evidence.

Editorial Comment

This case describes a common tactic that defense attorneys use to get around rape shield laws by asserting a "mistake of fact" defense. Most states outright forbid "mistake of fact" defenses, though such a defense is possible in Texas. The court nevertheless rebuffed the defendant's efforts to exploit the defense as a tactic to introduce the victim's sexual history to "explain" why the defendant was mistaken. Prosecutors should aggressively use this case to emphasize that just because it is possible for a defendant to claim he was mistaken about a victim's age, does not mean he can then offer irrelevant and prejudicial evidence of a victim's sexual history. This case can and should be used for adult victims as well, in cases where the defendant claims he made a "mistake" about the victim's consent. Mistake about consent and mistake about age are the same "type" of defense, and while most states forbid both defenses outright, in those states where such a defense is possible, this case supports the argument that either type of "mistake" does not justify abrogation of the rape-shield statute.

Submitted By: Sheba Varughese -- Law Student

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