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State v. Mullen

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was charged with numerous counts of abominable and detestable crimes against nature. The law was later repealed to only apply to acts committed with animals and not fellow men.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A repealed “crimes against nature” statute that no longer applies to acts committed against men cannot be used to convict one who was initially charged with the statute.

    Facts. Defendant was charged with nine counts of abominable and detestable crimes against nature. The charges alleged that defendant committed sexual acts upon the victim when victim was between the ages of 14 and 17, although the state alleged the acts took place when the victim was over 16 years of age. While the indictment was pending, the Legislature repealed certain provisions of the statute in question so that it no longer involved abominable and detestable crimes against nature with men, just beasts. The Superior Court dismissed the charges and the state appealed.

    Issue. Was the Superior Court correct in dismissing the charges under the “crimes against nature” statute because the statute had been repealed to not include crimes against nature with mankind?

    Held. Yes, State’s appeal denied.
    Rhode Island’s general savings statute does not apply here because preservation of these charges would have been inconsistent with the manifest intention of the General Assembly to decriminalize sodomy between consenting adults and that it would be repugnant to the statute as amended.

    The effect of such repeals or amendments upon pending prosecutions should be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the provisions of the savings clause in the light of the intent of the Legislature in enacting the repeal or amendment.

    Dissent. The Legislative explanation to the appeals stated (1) This act would de-criminalize sodomy between two consenting adults, and (2) This act would take effect upon passage. This seems to indicate that the repeal was intended only to have had a prospective application. Furthermore, merely because such acts would not now be deemed unlawful if they had been committed a different, later time does not mean that it is unfair to prosecute the individual who committed the rime in question when such conduct was against the law. Judges have no business overriding this legislative policy choice (savings clause) in favor of enforcing a judicial belief that it is “fundamentally unfair to prosecute acts which are no longer criminal offenses”

    Discussion. While the indictment was pending, the statute that made Defendant’s actions criminal was repealed. The newly repealed statute did not make Defendant’s actions criminal. Rhode Island had a general savings clause which provided that “no suit, prosecution, or indictment pending at the time of the repeal of any statute for any offense committed shall in any case be affected by the repeal, but the suit, prosecution, or indictment may be proceeded with, and the act shall be deemed to be in force for the purpose of prosecuting the act to final judgment and execution or sentence, as the case may be; unless such construction would be clearly repugnant to the express provisions of the repealing statute. Here, the Court reasoned that the repealed statute decriminalized Defendant’s actions, and therefore, prosecuting him would be clearly repugnant to express provisions of the repealing statute.


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