State v. Hunt (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-06-0295, 18 pp.) (Barbara Jackson, J.) Appealed from Randolph County Superior Court. (Edwin G. Wilson Jr., J.) On discretionary review from the Court of Appeals. N.C. S. Ct. Full-text opinion.
Holding: Lay testimony was sufficient to establish whether the victim in this case had the requisite mental capacity to consent to sexual activity; expert testimony was unnecessary.
We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision to vacate defendant’s convictions of second-degree sexual offense and crime against nature. We remand for consideration of other issues defendant raised on appeal.
Through the lay testimony of her teachers and social workers, the state presented evidence that the 17-year-old victim, “Clara”, has an IQ of 61, was enrolled in special education classes, and required and received assistance to function in society.
The state also showed that Clara’s condition rendered her substantially incapable of resisting defendant’s advances. When defendant asked Clara to follow him into the kitchen, she thought he was going to show her where the cups were located. Clara testified that defendant’s act of “rubbing” her breasts, vagina, and butt “scared” her because she “didn’t know what [defendant] was going to do.” Clara said that she was “shocked” when defendant pulled his penis out of his sweatpants. After defendant forced Clara to put his penis into her mouth, Clara again said that she was scared because she “thought [defendant] was going to hurt [her] more than he did.” In addition, when Clara tried to raise her head, defendant pushed it back down to his penis.
Finally, the record contains evidence that defendant knew or reasonably should have known about Clara’s mental disability. Defendant’s wife testified that she and defendant had previously discussed Clara’s condition.
Considered in the light most favorable to the state, a reasonable juror could have inferred from this evidence that (1) Clara was mentally disabled, (2) her condition rendered her substantially incapable of resisting defendant’s sexual advances, and (3) defendant knew or should reasonably have known of Clara’s mental disability. Therefore, the state presented sufficient evidence to overcome defendant’s motions to dismiss the second-degree sexual offense charge.
In the wake of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), the scope of our crime against nature statute, G.S. § 14-177, has been narrowed. Nonetheless, the statute may still be used to prosecute conduct involving, inter alia, a minor or a nonconsensual or coercive sexual act.
Defendant conceded he knew Clara was 17 at the time of her encounter with him. Defendant also admitted that Clara performed oral sex on him.
The state introduced sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Clara’s condition rendered her substantially incapable of resisting defendant’s advances. This evidence indicates that the sexual acts were not consensual.
In addition, the record suggests that the sexual acts were coercive. Clara testified that defendant “forced” her head down to his penis and “pushed [her] head back down” when she tried to raise it. Clara stated that she only put her mouth on defendant’s penis because he “forced [her] head down to it.” Clara said that she was “scared” because she “thought [defendant] was going to hurt [her].” Clara also testified that defendant told her twice not to tell anybody because he could get in “serious trouble.” Considered in the light most favorable to the State, a reasonable juror could infer from these facts that defendant engaged in nonconsensual or coercive sexual acts with a minor. Therefore, the state presented sufficient evidence to overcome defendant’s motions to dismiss the crime against nature charge.
We emphasize that expert testimony is not necessarily required to establish the extent of a victim’s mental capacity to consent to sexual acts when a defendant is charged with second-degree sexual offense or crime against nature.
Lay witness testimony may be received regarding the mental condition of an individual whose capacity is at issue.
We recognize that there may be cases involving a person’s mental capacity that will necessitate expert testimony; however, in light of Clara’s own testimony and the significant amount of lay witness testimony regarding Clara’s condition, this is not such a case. Consequently, the state was not required to use expert testimony pursuant to N.C. R. Evid. 702 to establish the extent of Clara’s mental capacity to consent to sexual acts.
Reversed and remanded.