Appeal could change interpretation of rape law

Associated Press • Jan 18, 2013 at 2:49 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A century-old interpretation of Tennessee's statutory rape law could get a new examination by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The high court has agreed to review the case of a Memphis man convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old Arkansas girl. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/SV5Gva ) reported the review could include revisiting and possibly overturning the interpretation.

The rule came about through an 1895 case in which a man was tried on charges that he had sex with his underage niece. A court ruled that, since they were related, both the man and the girl could be convicted of incest.

The view —unchallenged for a century —holds that an underage sex crime victim can be considered an accomplice in the crime against her or him.

A victims' rights advocate said the interpretation is ludicrous.

"We cannot expect victims to feel safe enough to break free and seek relief when they face the prospect of being victimized again by our legal system," said Cathy Gurley, executive director of You Have the Power.

The rule, she said, "undermines society's obligation to protect children."

The case the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear is that of Dewayne Collier. He was convicted in 2010 by a Shelby County jury of aggravated statutory rape.

Through his attorneys, Collier has consistently maintained he is innocent.

Prosecutors said that in September 2008, the girl — instead of taking part in her high school band's performance at a football game in Earle, Ark. — went to a friend's house and called Collier in Memphis to come and pick her up. The state contends the two had sex multiple times.

The high court has expressed interest in issues raised by Collier's case, including whether the victim of a sexual offense can be a criminal accomplice. If the view stands, do prosecutors need corroborating evidence beyond an accomplice's testimony to convict a defendant?

The answers could have far-reaching legal implications, said attorneys who are not involved in the case to be reviewed.

Nashville defense attorney David Raybin said casting a victim as an accomplice disparages the victim.

A prosecutor doesn't disagree. Assistant District Attorney Brian Holmgren in Davidson County said, "Classifying a victim as an accomplice is not usually helpful to a prosecution."

Attorneys in the Collier case said the court will likely consider the accomplice questions when it reviews its Jackson docket in November.


Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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