Minnesota lawmakers aim to strengthen sexual assault laws

Published 7:07 am Thursday, April 8, 2021

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers are calling for swift passage of legislation that would update the state’s criminal sexual conduct code after a loophole in the law’s current language led to the reversal of a rape conviction last month.

The Minnesota Supreme Court last month ordered a new trial for a man convicted of sexually assaulting a woman who was intoxicated, ruling that the definition of “mental incapacitation” in the state’s law only accounts for victims who were involuntarily inebriated. The decision sparked outrage and emphasized a push to update the current language to include cases where victims consumed drugs or alcohol voluntarily but are too intoxicated to give consent.

“Survivors who choose to engage with the criminal justice system deserve a system that does not perpetuate additional harm,” said Lindsay Brice, law and policy director at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, during a news conference Wednesday. “While that legal opinion was probably a surprise to much of the public, it highlighted an issue that survivors and advocates have been working on for years.”

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Lawmakers on Wednesday held a news conference to highlight the provision to include voluntary intoxication under the state’s definition of mental incapacitation, as well as other parts of a larger bill that would make other changes to the criminal sexual conduct statute. The legislation would also create a new crime of sexual extortion that would make it a crime to coerce a victim into a sexual act to avoid a consequence like loss of housing or employment, among other measures.

The legislation comes after a work group was established that included survivors of sexual assault, advocates, lawmakers, prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement. The group of nearly 80 members delivered a report to the Legislature in January that included recommendations for changes to the criminal sexual conduct code — many of which are in the legislation.

The legislation has been approved by public safety and judiciary committees in the Democratic House, where Rep. Kelly Moller, of Shorview, is the chief author. The public safety and judiciary committee GOP-controlled Senate is expected to hear the provision in the bill related mental incapacitation Wednesday evening, but Moller said Wednesday she remains hopeful the committee will consider the other measures in the bill as well.

“While we are thankful for the attention the Supreme Court decision has drawn to our bill to fix the intoxication loophole, we shouldn’t wait for other bad case law in order to make the other important changes in the bill,” Moller said. “The entire bill has overwhelming bipartisan support, has been thoroughly vetted by the working group and there should be no hesitancy to quickly pass the entire bill this session.”