Courts rule when mental capacity diminishes

gavel2 1 Maryland criminal statutes protect persons with mental disabilities from sexual crimes. The Court of Appeals last week addressed what must be proven in a rape case to establish the mental condition of the victim in order to prove such a crime, in a case called Miguel Fuentes v. State of Maryland.
The Court’s majority opinion indicates that Fuentes was convicted by a jury of second degree rape and another sexual offense, arising from a sexual encounter he had with a 38 year old coworker at a hotel. The victim, who was deaf, testified through a sign language interpreter to the encounter with the defendant. Her mother testified that the victim was disabled and had attended a high school class for students with disabilities, but was able to work in housekeeping. After noticing a change in her daughter’s behavior, she later discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to a child whom DNA evidence showed had by fathered by the defendant.

The State also called an employee of an organization that assists the disabled, as to her work with the victim to assist her in staying employed. The victim’s sister also testified that her sister had trouble communicating, and could not be left alone at home. The defendant called three coworkers, who testified that the victim was intelligent and good at her job, that the defendant was a good worker, and that they believed he was friends with the victim. Fuentes, a father of six, testified and admitted to the sexual encounter but claimed it was initiated by the victim.
The Court noted that second degree rape includes intercourse “if the victim is a mentally defective individual” or a “mental incapacitated individual,” a fact the defendant knew or should have
known. A person is mentally defective “who suffers from mental retardation or a mental disorder... that renders the person substantially incapable” of appraising the nature of the person’s conduct or communicating unwillingness to the sex act. The majority held that the prosecution did not have to produce medical evidence to prove the victim’s mental condition, that the jury could evaluate her testimony and that of the other lay witnesses to determine if the victim met the definition of a person who could not legally consent.
The Court upheld the conviction despite the lack of medical evidence, noting its holding served the statutory purpose of protecting vulnerable persons. It also upheld the court’s exclusion of the victims’ employment records, which the dissenting judge argued should have been admitted into evidence.

Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.

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