The Potluck

Lawmakers to vote on updating sex crime laws 

By: - June 29, 2021 12:38 pm

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Lawmakers will vote today on updating Minnesota’s sex crime laws, including closure of a loophole that led to the reversal of a rape conviction by the state Supreme Court because the victim was intoxicated, sparking a national outcry.

The court ordered a new trial in a case where a man was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman who was intoxicated, saying a person can’t be found guilty of assaulting a person they know is mentally incapacitated if the person voluntarily drank alcohol or ingested drugs. He could still be tried on a lesser charge.

Advocates for sex assault victims have been pushing to change the law for years.

Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, who is a Hennepin County prosecutor, said the Supreme Court decision was a “horrible outcome” but it wasn’t a surprise to people who work in the field, who have known about the loophole for years.

Closing that loophole is part of a larger agreed-upon bill based on a working group’s 18 months of study, led by survivors and including prosecutors, defense attorneys and advocates.

“It provides a lot of clarity,” Moller said.

The Minnesota House will vote on the wide-ranging legislation — of which the sex crimes provisions are just a small part — that also provides funding for courts, prisons and state law enforcement agencies. 

(Its status is somewhat in doubt, however, as progressives are promising to attach amendments to rein in police. Republicans who control the state Senate are opposed to those policing reform and accountability measures.)  

The legislation also creates a new crime called sexual extortion, banning people from threatening someone into having sex in exchange for things like rent.

Moller said the legislation also requires the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate reports of sexual assaults in the National Guard; eliminates the statute of limitations in sex assault cases and extends protection for child victims to age 14, for certain crimes with higher penalties. The bill also would create an office focused on missing and murdered Indigenous women and a task force for missing and murdered African American women.

And, a separate “good Samaritan bill” prevents prosecution for underage drinking or use of controlled substances for victims of sex assaults and people helping them. Moller said the bill was a priority for University of Minnesota students.

As legislation was being negotiated between the House and Senate Tuesday, Artika Roller, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in an email, “We expect our legislators to combined their efforts and bring forth reforms that truly transforms Minnesota’s statues and affords safety and equal access to justice for all communities.”

 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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