The Minnesota Supreme Court made national news last week when it threw out a felony rape conviction on what appeared on the surface to suggest victim blaming.
Last Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned Francios Khalil’s felony criminal sexual assault conviction on the grounds that the victim had voluntarily gotten herself drunk prior to the assault. According to the police report, Khalil picked up an intoxicated woman outside a Dinkytown bar in 2017, took her back to his place and had sex with her after she passed out on the couch. He was later convicted in Hennepin County Court of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony.
Khalil’s attorney argued that the felony-level charge did not apply in this case because the victim had voluntarily drank alcohol to the point that she could no longer provide consent. Defense lawyers said the way the law is written, felony charges should only apply when a perpetrator spikes a drink or when the victim gets to a state of mental incapacitation unknowingly or against their will. The defense team argued that the victim willingly drank to the point of incapacitation.
State Supreme Court Agrees
A divided Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision to convict on felony charges, but when the matter was brought before the Minnesota Supreme Court, the state’s highest court agreed with the defense. They overturned the conviction and granted Khalil a new trial.
Many headlines about the case really try to play this up as victim blaming, but what they seem to be omitting is that lawyers from both sides admit a crime has occurred. The defense team believes it constitutes fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is a gross misdemeanor that carries lighter penalties. It seems likely that Khalil will be tried on this charge or a similar one in the not-so-distant future, so don’t expect him to get off easily simply because the accuser consumed alcohol by choice.
It’s also worth noting that Minnesota lawmakers have taken an interest in the case. A bill is advancing through the House that would add language to the current third degree criminal sexual conduct statute that makes it a felony to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent, no matter how they got that way.
“Victims who are intoxicated to the degree that they are unable to give consent are entitled to justice,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview. “Our laws must clearly reflect that understanding, and today’s Supreme Court ruling highlights the urgency lawmakers have to close this and other loopholes throughout our (criminal sexual conduct) law.”
It’s an interesting case, because while Khalil’s actions are clearly wrong, intent and premeditation are oftentimes a big factors in criminal cases. His choices were repugnant, but the Minnesota Supreme Court does not feel that, under the current law, he should be held to the same standard as someone who roofies a woman and preys on her that way. There is plenty of malice in both instances, but there’s a degree of planning that goes into one that should be punished to the highest degree, and as the law currently stands, Khalil’s actions do not rise to this level.
We hope the victim gets the resources she deserves to help get to a healthy place in life, and we’ll keep tabs on how the law shakes out going forward.