Daily Archives: February 12, 2008

Degrees of kinship and same-sex incest? ARO 2/11/08

The title of this post is flippant, but the case it refers to is rather interesting. In State v. John F.M., the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s reversal of a conviction. John F. M. was convicted of sexual assault in the third degree under the sex with a kindred person subsection. It provides in relevant part:

(a) A person is guilty of sexual assault in the third degree when such person (2) engages in sexual intercourse with another person whom the actor knows to be related to him or her within any of the degrees of kindred specified in section 46b-21.

46b-21 provides:

No man may marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, niece, stepmother or stepdaughter, and no woman may marry her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew, stepfather or stepson. Any marriage within these degrees is void.

So you can’t have sex with any of those people either.  John F.M. first raised a sufficiency challenge – that based on the defendant’s testimony, the jury could not conclude that there did, indeed, exist such a relationship (the girl in question was the defendant’s step-daughter) and that the sex assault statute violates the equal protection clause because it prohibits only heterosexual conduct.

The defendant relied, in his first claim, on an 1827 decision of the CT Supreme Court – State v. Roswell, which held that the relationship between the two must be proven by the state other than by the testimony of the defendant. The Court engages in an analysis and discussion of Connecticut caselaw from 1827 onwards that erodes Roswell and overrules it.

Indeed, since Schweitzer was decided, this court repeatedly has reaffirmed the principle that, “cohabitation as husband and wife is [admissible] evidence, and often sufficient evidence, that the parties have been validly married, but does not in itself constitute a marriage.”

The Court also recaps the law on admission of a party:

[S]tatements made out of court by a party-opponent are universally deemed admissible when offered against him . . . so long as they are relevant and material to issues in the case. . . . [T]he vast weight of authority, judicial, legislative, and scholarly, supports the admissibility without restriction of any statement of a party offered against that party at trial.

The Court also found that the Appellate Court improperly extended the (overruled) Roswell rule of marital relationships to evidence of parentage.

The Court then turns to the equal protection argument. This, too, it resolves in favor of the state, but in my opinion, their argument is strained and it seems like they are reaching. Result oriented is what these opinions are called.

The claim was that the sex assault statute, which prohibits intercourse between people related in the manner defined in 46b-21, violates equal protection, because the “degrees of kinship” are defined in heterosexual terms.

The Court engages in some statutory construction:

To resolve the state’s claim, we must determine whether the phrase ‘‘degrees of kindred’’ in § 53a-72a (a) (2) incorporates by reference the precise male-female unions enumerated in § 46b-21.

For some reason, it looks at what “degrees” and “kindred” mean and determine that:

Accordingly, § 53a-72a (a) (2) plainly does not incorporate the precise male-female unions enumerated in § 46b-21 but, rather, incorporates only the proximity of relation specified therein, namely, parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, sibling-sibling, aunt/uncle-niece/nephew and stepparent-stepchild. Because § 53a-72a (a) (2) applies equally to both same sex and opposite sex sexual intercourse between individuals who are related within the degrees of kinship specified in § 46b-21, it does not create the allegedly unconstitutional classification and, therefore, does not violate the equal protection clause of the federal constitution.

It does seem absurd that the Statute would prohibit heterosexual relationships and not same-sex relationships, but that statute was likely written before same-sex relationships were much accepted as they are today. To that extent, is it the Court’s job to rewrite the intent of the statute as it is written? The legislature surely could have amended the statute at any point in the past so many years – especially since civil unions have been on their mind – and they did not.

Anyway, it’s interesting.  It takes a statute that is pretty darn specific and broadens its application. I think I got most of it. If I missed something, feel free to leave a comment, Marty.

There’s actually a reversal in the Appellate Court (amongst some affirmances), but I think this post has gone on long enough, so I’ll leave you with a quote. At least there isn’t much chance it will get reversed.

Because the state concedes, however, and we agree, that the defendant’s conviction of criminal mischief in the first degree cannot be reconciled with his conviction of arson in the third degree because the conviction of each crime depends on proof of irreconcilably inconsistent states of mind, the judgment must be reversed as to those crimes and the case remanded for a new trial.