The California Supreme Court ruled today that an argument that the victim consented can never be used as a defense against charges of sex crimes involving a child younger than 14.
“For over 100 years, California law has consistently provided that children under the age of 14 cannot give valid legal consent to sexual acts with adults,” Justice Carol Corrigan wrote.
The court issued its ruling in San Francisco in the Santa Clara County case of Jaime Vargas Soto.
Soto was convicted of three counts of forcible lewd acts and one count of a nonforcible lewd act for four incidents of sexually fondling two girls. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Soto was 19 at the time of incidents. One of the girls was his 12-year-old cousin, and the other was his cousin’s friend, who was 11 and 12 years old during the period of abuse.
State law provides for heavier penalties for forcible lewd acts against a child, defined as acts committed with the use of force, violence or duress.
The jury’s finding that three of the acts were forcible was based on the girls’ testimony that Soto grabbed them and refused to release them when they asked him to stop fondling them and that they were frightened.
Soto argued in his appeal that since the law distinguished between forcible and nonforcible acts, he should have been allowed to argue that the girls consented and the acts were therefore nonviolent.
But the court said consent of a minor is not a defense.
Corrigan noted in the ruling that when the Legislature amended the state’s child abuse law in 1981, it intentionally deleted a phrase requiring that a forcible act must be “against the will of the victim.”
Corrigan wrote that the Legislature “kept the focus on the conduct of the assailant.
“It recognized that there is an inherent imbalance in an encounter between a child and an adult bent on sexual conduct. It acted to protect young children, who may make ill-advised ‘choices’ when under the coercive influence of an overreaching adult,” Corrigan said.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News
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