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Garnett v. State

    Brief Fact Summary. This case stems from sexual intercourse between 13-year-old Erica Frazier (Frazier) and the Defendant, 20-year-old Raymond Garnett (Defendant), resulting in the birth of a baby. At the time of the incident, the Defendant had been classified as being mildly retarded.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Traditionally, statutory rape is a strict liability crime designed to protect young persons from the dangers of sexual exploitation by adults, loss of chastity, physical injury and in the case of girls, pregnancy.

    Facts. At the time of the incident the Defendant attended school in the Montgomery County public school system. Cynthia Parker, a guidance counselor for the school system, described the Defendant as a mildly retarded person with an I.Q. of 52. The Defendant was able to read on a third grade level and do arithmetic on a fifth grade level. Furthermore, the Defendant interacted with other children in school at the level of someone who was 11 or 12 years old. As the Defendant was unable to pass any of the state functional tests required for graduation, he received only a certificate of attendance rather than a high school diploma. In November or December of 1990, a friend introduced the Defendant to Frazier. The two frequently spoke on the telephone. On the night of February 28, 1991, the Defendant came to Frazier’s house to call for a ride home. Frazier let the Defendant in through her bedroom window, where the two talked and later engaged in sexual intercourse. The Defendant was subseq
    uently tried on one count of second-degree rape under a statute proscribing intercourse between a person under 14 and another at least four years older than the complainant. At trial, the Defendant offered evidence that Frazier and her friends had previously told him that she was 16. The trial court, nevertheless, found the Defendant guilty and sentenced him to a term of five years in prison.

    Issue. Can the Defendant be convicted under Maryland’s second-degree rape provision where he did not have any specific mens rea while committing the act in question?

    Held. It is sufficiently clear that Maryland’s second-degree rape statute defines a strict liability offense that does not require the state to prove mens rea and it makes no allowance for a mistake-of-age defense.

    Dissent. Both Judge Eldridge (J. Eldridge) and Judge Bell (J. Bell) offered dissenting opinions.
    J. Eldridge: Neither the statutory language nor the legislative history of the statute in question indicate that the legislature intended that section to define a pure strict liability offense where criminal liability is imposed regardless of the defendant’s mental state.

    J. Bell: To hold that the statute in question does not require the state to prove that the Defendant possessed the necessary mental state to commit the crime offends deeply rooted principles of justice.


    Discussion. The court began its decision by pointing out the general notion that the law often disfavors strict liability offenses. However, the court ended its decision by stating that a new provision introducing an element of mens rea should properly result from the act of the legislature rather than the courts. Furthermore, the court downplayed any idea that the Defendant’s mental retardation could act as a defense to the charged offense. The court literally read the language of the rule that proscribed as a strict liability offense any sexual intercourse between anyone under 14 years of age and someone four years or more their senior.


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