Monday, February 9, 2009

Mass. Supremes: Boy can challenge gender bias in statutory rape charges

The highest court in Massachusetts held 3-2 [erroneously reported earlier as 5-2] that a teenage boy charged with statutory rape may force the government to turn over evidence that might help him claim gender bias. The case is essentially one about criminal procedure, and specifically what criminal defendants must show to be entitled to challenge their prosecution based on a claim of selective enforcement of any kind - but it also raises questions about who prosecutors decide to charge, and why, when underage youth have sex and all parties are apparently breaking the law.

The boy, 14, was charged with statutory rape involving three girls, all about age 12. He claims that he engaged in consensual oral and manual sex with each of the girls, and that the only apparent basis for choosing to prosecute him and not the girls was gender. The majority found that he was entitled to have the prosecutor turn over information that might prove that claim, specifically data about the gender of persons under 16 who were charged with statutory rape in the past. It was enough, at this stage, for the boy to point to the apparent discrepancy in his own case. The dissenters said that the age and grade differences here were plainly a legitimate basis for charging only the boy.

Edit: From the facts of the case this certainly doesn't look like the best test case to raise questions about gender bias. In addition to the age gap, there are facts in the court's opinion that suggest that at least one of the girls here may have felt pressured to engage in sex.

The case now goes back to the trial court for discovery, and the boy's lawyers will have to see if they can use the prosecutor's data to show a pattern of gender bias in statutory rape prosecutions.

H/t How Appealing. Press coverage of the case appears here and here.

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