Statutory law, like democracy, is often erroneously held up as a feature of truly great societies. The problem with statutory law is that it’s based on the belief that the decrees of legislators and the rulings of judges are justice. But justice is about righting a wrong as much as possible and statutory law often fails miserably at this. Consider the recent rape case in Oklahoma:
The case involved allegations that a 17-year-old boy assaulted a girl, 16, after volunteering to give her a ride home. The two had been drinking in a Tulsa park with a group of friends when it became clear that the girl was badly intoxicated. Witnesses recalled that she had to be carried into the defendant’s car. Another boy, who briefly rode in the car, recalled her coming in and out of consciousness.
The boy later brought the girl to her grandmother’s house. Still unconscious, the girl was taken to a hospital, where a test put her blood alcohol content above .34. She awoke as staff were conducting a sexual assault examination.
Tests would later confirm that the young man’s DNA was found on the back of her leg and around her mouth. The boy claimed to investigators that the girl had consented to performing oral sex. The girl said she didn’t have any memories after leaving the park. Tulsa County prosecutors charged the young man with forcible oral sodomy.
But the trial judge dismissed the case. And the appeals court ruling, on 24 March, affirmed that prosecutors could not apply the law to a victim who was incapacitated by alcohol.
“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation,” the decision read. Its reasoning, the court said, was that the statute listed several circumstances that constitute force, and yet was silent on incapacitation due to the victim drinking alcohol. “We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”
According to the judge’s interpretation of the law a woman who is so intoxicated that she has been render unconscious cannot be forcibly sodomized. And Oklahoma’s law very well might be written in that way, which is the problem.
This case should be focusing on the wrong that was performed and the best way to correct that wrong as far as possible. In any sane justice system that would be the focus. The question of whether a person can consent if they’re not in a sound state of mind, for example, would probably be explored if the focus was on the wrong. Most people would likely agree that a person who is so drunk that they’ve passed out cannot consent to a legal control, let alone sex.
But under statutory law the focus isn’t the wrong but on what was written by legislators and ruled by other judges.