State v. Yanez, No. 97-110-C

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtBefore WEISBERGER; GOLDBERG; Flanders
Citation716 A.2d 759
Decision Date04 August 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-110-C
PartiesSTATE v. Alejandro YANEZ. A.

Page 759

716 A.2d 759
STATE

v.
Alejandro YANEZ.
No. 97-110-C.A.
Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
Aug. 4, 1998.

Page 760

Aaron L. Weisman, Asst. Attorney General, for plaintiff.

Mary June Ciresi, Providence, for defendant.

Before WEISBERGER, C.J., and LEDERBERG, BOURCIER, FLANDERS and GOLDBERG, JJ.

OPINION

GOLDBERG, Justice.

The principal issue presented by this case is whether a reasonable mistake of fact concerning a complainant's age may be asserted as a defense to a charge of statutory-rape. For the reasons articulated in this opinion, we hold that with respect to the age requirement first-degree child-molestation sexual assault is a strict-liability offense. Consequently a defendant charged with this offense may not introduce evidence that he or she was mistaken regarding the child's age, nor is a defendant entitled to a jury instruction regarding the same. A recitation of the facts is in order.

Facts

The defendant, Alejandro Yanez (Yanez), was eighteen-years-old when he engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with Allison (a fictitious name), the victim in this case, who was thirteen-years-old at the time. The two were first introduced to each other, albeit ever so briefly, in August 1992, nearly a year before this incident. Allison testified that she was attending a Portuguese festival with a girlfriend when she saw her aunt's boyfriend, Victor Yanez (Victor), defendant's brother. According to Allison, who at that time was only twelve-years-old, Victor introduced her to Yanez. For the next eleven months Allison and Yanez had virtually no contact with each other except for the obligatory "Hello" in passing. Then one day in mid-July 1993, while Allison was walking to the local park to meet friends, she saw Yanez cruise by in his white Trans Am convertible with the top down. She testified that she waved to Yanez, who proceeded to turn the Trans Am around and offer her a ride. Since the park was only across the street, Allison declined Yanez's invitation, but when he persisted. Allison acceded. The two briefly talked during the quarter-mile trip. Yanez gave Allison his name and telephone number, and the two conversed again briefly that night on the telephone.

The next day Allison received a telephone message from either her mother or her sister that Yanez had called her and asked that she call him back. Allison returned Yanez's telephone

Page 761

call, and the two made arrangements to meet in the parking lot behind St. Joseph's Church in West Warwick. From the church the two left in Yanez's car and went for a ride. According to Allison, they proceeded to the home of a friend of Yanez's where they engaged in consensual sexual intercourse on the floor in a back bedroom.

Following the conclusion of their first "date" Allison returned home quite late. After entering the house, Allison proceeded directly to the bathroom to shower whereupon she was subsequently confronted by her mother. While in the bathroom, Allison's mother noticed her underwear on the floor and asked if she had engaged in sexual intercourse. Allison initially denied having had sexual intercourse that evening but later admitted the truth. Subsequently Allison's mother contacted the police, whereupon Allison admitted that she had engaged in sexual intercourse but named as her partner a person called Derek. Allison later explained that she had lied about Yanez's identity because she did not want her mother to know that she had engaged in sexual intercourse with Yanez. A subsequent police investigation revealed that Yanez admitted having had sexual intercourse with Allison but insisted that Allison had told him that she was sixteen-years-old. Allison denied having told Yanez that she was sixteen years of age and, in fact, testified that on the two or three occasions when Yanez had inquired about her age, she had responded that she was only thirteen.

Yanez was indicted on one count of first-degree child-molestation sexual assault in violation of G.L.1956 §§ 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.2, although the trial testimony would later reveal that this was not an isolated incident and that there were two more equally sordid, uncharged encounters. 1 At trial defense

Page 762

counsel made numerous attempts to introduce evidence not only demonstrating Yanez's mistaken belief concerning Allison's age but also evidence concerning Allison's apparent maturity in light of her appearance, physical development, and demeanor. The trial justice rejected this evidence and determined that in cases in which conduct is made criminal because the victim is a minor, the defense of ignorance or mistaken belief with respect to the victim's age is not available. The trial justice further indicated that he intended to charge the jury with respect to the unavailability of this defense and consequently declined to charge in accordance with Yanez's requested mistake of fact instructions. The pertinent portion of the trial justice's charge to the jury reads as follows:

"The defendant is accused that on a day and dates between July 14, 1993 and July 15, 1993, at West Warwick, Alejandro Yanez did engage in sexual penetration, to wit sexual intercourse, with [Allison], a person under 14 years of age, in violation of the laws of the State of Rhode Island. Now a person is guilty of first degree child molestation, sexual assault, if he or she engages in sexual penetration with a person 14 years of age or under. Sexual penetration includes sexual intercourse. By law, sexual intercourse is defined as the penetration of the vagina by the penis. There are two essential elements to first degree child molestation sexual assault. First, the defendant must engage in sexual intercourse with the alleged victim. And second, the victim is under the age of 14 years.

"Now under the terms of this law, the State need not prove that the act of sexual intercourse was committed against the wishes of the victim. Thus, in order for you to return a verdict of guilty, the State is required to prove, number one, that this defendant, Alejandro Yanez; two, on or about July 15, 1993, at West Warwick; three, did in fact engage in sexual intercourse with [Allison]; and four, that at the time, if you are satisfied he did engage in sexual intercourse with [Allison], at the time she was under the age of 14 years. The law also states when conduct is made criminal because the victim is a minor, and in Rhode Island [in the context of this case] that age being 14, it is no defense that the defendant was ignorant of or mistaken as to the victim's age. And it matters not that his mistaken belief was reasonable."

Following deliberations a Superior Court jury convicted Yanez of first-degree child-molestation sexual assault. The trial justice sentenced Yanez to the minimum twenty year sentence but suspended eighteen years of the sentence with probation. The trial justice also ordered that Yanez have no contact with Allison for twenty years and, as required by law, that Yanez register with the local police authorities as a convicted sex offender. Yanez was released on bail pending the outcome of this appeal.

We note that even though we do not agree with the account of the facts set forth by the dissent--and reiterate that we saw no evidence that Allison and Yanez were actually

Page 763

dating--we are satisfied that even if this version was true, the General Assembly never intended that a charge of statutory-rape should be sorted out by a jury. With this assertion in mind we begin our analysis.
I

Mistake of Fact Defense

The crime of statutory-rape was legislatively created in England during the thirteenth century in order to afford special protection to those society had deemed too young to appreciate the consequences of their actions. See Statute of Westminster I, 3 Edw. 1, c. 13 (1275); 1E. Coke, The Second Part of the Institute of the Laws of England 179 (1797). See also United States v. Ransom, 942 F.2d 775, 777 (10th Cir.1991); State v. Jordan, 528 A.2d 731, 732 n. 4 (R.I.1987). Thus English courts, which had generally recognized the mistake of fact defense in criminal prosecutions since 1638, did not begin to discuss this defense in the context of statutory-rape cases until the later half of the nineteenth century. See United States v. Brooks, 841 F.2d 268, 269 (9th Cir.1988). At that time, the mistake of fact defense was rejected by courts both in England and in the United States. Id. 2

Characterizing statutory-rape as a strict-liability offense remained the law in every American jurisdiction until 1964. See id. at 270 (observing California as the first state to recognize the mistake of fact defense judicially). But see People v. Olsen, 36 Cal.3d 638, 205 Cal.Rptr. 492, 685 P.2d 52, 59 (1984) (rejecting the mistake of fact defense in cases involving lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor). Although some states have followed California's lead--most through legislative enactments--the majority of courts that have considered this issue continue to reject the reasonable mistake of a victim's age as a defense to statutory-rape and maintain their allegiance to the common law. 3 We note that our research involving statutory-rape cases has revealed that the highest appellate courts of only four states have judicially recognized the mistake of fact defense. See Garnett v. State, 332 Md. 571, 632 A.2d 797, 803 (1993). All four of these cases, however, are distinguishable from the case at bar.

The courts in People v. Hernandez, 61 Cal.2d 529, 39 Cal.Rptr. 361, 393 P.2d 673 (1964), and State v. Elton, 680 P.2d 727 (Utah 1984), both expressly relied upon the text of their respective criminal codes, which required the concurrence of an act and a mental state in order to constitute a crime, as well as language in their codes that unless otherwise provided, ignorance or mistake of fact negates a culpable mental state. Furthermore the Elton court relied upon a provision of the Utah Criminal Code, which stated that...

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26 practice notes
  • Fleming v. State, No. PD–1250–12.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • 18 Junio 2014
    ...; Navarrete, 221 Neb. at 174–75, 376 N.W.2d at 11 ; Goodrow v. Perrin, 119 N.H. 483, 488–89, 403 A.2d 864, 868 (1979) ; State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 763–66 (R.I.1998) ; State v. Fulks, 83 S.D. 433, 436–37, 160 N.W.2d 418, 419–20 (1968), overruled on other grounds by State v. Ree, 331 N.W.2......
  • U.S. v. Wilson, No. 98-1256
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • 16 Noviembre 1998
    ...classic example being statutory rape in jurisdictions in which the girl's apparent maturity is not a defense. See, e.g., State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759 (R.I.1998); Richard A. Posner and Katharine B. Silbaugh, A Guide to America's Sex Laws, ch. 3 (1996). But the existence and content of the cr......
  • Harris v. State, No. 81
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Abril 1999
    ...offense is committed. Simply stated, "[t]he mens rea ... is implicit in 728 A.2d 187 the intentional doing of the act." State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 767 We hold that the intent element of carjacking is satisfied by proof that the defendant possessed the general criminal intent to commit th......
  • Owens v. State, No. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 12 Febrero 1999
    ...or abuse of one of the parties, the facts of this case reveal only two teenagers engaged in a fully consensual act, see State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 772 (R.I.1998) (Flanders, J., dissenting)23, Maryland's statutory rape law, as currently formulated is not the most narrowly tailored method ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 cases
  • Fleming v. State, No. PD–1250–12.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • 18 Junio 2014
    ...; Navarrete, 221 Neb. at 174–75, 376 N.W.2d at 11 ; Goodrow v. Perrin, 119 N.H. 483, 488–89, 403 A.2d 864, 868 (1979) ; State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 763–66 (R.I.1998) ; State v. Fulks, 83 S.D. 433, 436–37, 160 N.W.2d 418, 419–20 (1968), overruled on other grounds by State v. Ree, 331 N.W.2......
  • U.S. v. Wilson, No. 98-1256
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • 16 Noviembre 1998
    ...classic example being statutory rape in jurisdictions in which the girl's apparent maturity is not a defense. See, e.g., State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759 (R.I.1998); Richard A. Posner and Katharine B. Silbaugh, A Guide to America's Sex Laws, ch. 3 (1996). But the existence and content of the cr......
  • Harris v. State, No. 81
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Abril 1999
    ...offense is committed. Simply stated, "[t]he mens rea ... is implicit in 728 A.2d 187 the intentional doing of the act." State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 767 We hold that the intent element of carjacking is satisfied by proof that the defendant possessed the general criminal intent to commit th......
  • Owens v. State, No. 129
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 12 Febrero 1999
    ...or abuse of one of the parties, the facts of this case reveal only two teenagers engaged in a fully consensual act, see State v. Yanez, 716 A.2d 759, 772 (R.I.1998) (Flanders, J., dissenting)23, Maryland's statutory rape law, as currently formulated is not the most narrowly tailored method ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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