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North Carolina v. Breathette

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was arrested and charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor after having sexual relations with Beth, a minor who she met on MySpace. At trial, Defendant testified that she thought Beth was eighteen. The defense asked the trial court to instruct the jury that if Defendant reasonably but mistakenly believed that Beth was over 15 years old, Defendant did not have the requisite intent to commit the crime and should be acquitted. The trial court refused, and Defendant was convicted. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court’s refusal to issue the requested jury instruction on the defense of mistake of age was reversible error.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Mistake of age is not a valid defense to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor, even if the mistaken belief was reasonable.

    Facts.

    Nineteen-year-old Yasmin Breathette (Defendant) met thirteen-year-old B.W. (Beth) on the website MySpace. Beth’s MySpace page said that she was 99 years old. Beth later said that she did not want people on MySpace to know her real age. When Defendant asked Beth how old she was, Beth said that she was 17 years old. Beth and Defendant began contacting each other via texts and phone calls. Soon after meeting online, Defendant brought Beth to her apartment to spend the weekend together. Defendant and Beth engaged in sexual relations throughout the weekend, but after an argument, Beth sought help from Defendant’s friend. The police were called, and Beth was taken home. The police interviewed Defendant, who said that she and Beth had met online and wanted to date each other. Defendant admitted that she and Beth engaged in sexual relations. Defendant was arrested and charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor. At trial, Defendant testified about first meeting Beth on MySpace, and said that she later found Beth on another website for people of all sexual persuasions. Defendant testified that she believed Beth was over 18 years old because the website required all visitors to confirm they were 18 years or older before entering the website.

    Issue.

    Whether mistake of age is a valid defense to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor, even if the mistaken belief was reasonable.

    Held.

    No. Defendant’s conviction is affirmed. Mistake of age is not a valid defense to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor, even if the mistaken belief was reasonable.

    Discussion.

    A mistake as to a matter of fact such as age is usually a valid defense to certain charges if the mistake negates the requisite intent to commit the crime. However, the statute governing the charge of taking liberties with a minor does not require that the defendant know the victim is underage. The statute only requires that the minor be under the age of 16 years at the time of the crime, not that the defendant know the minor is under the age of 16 years. Thus, there is no mens rea requirement as to the minor’s age. If an act is considered criminal because of the victim’s age, a criminal defendant’s ignorance or mistake as to the victim’s actual age, even if reasonable, is not a defense. The Supreme Court of North Carolina has previously noted that the legislative intent behind this statute is to protect children from the sexual conduct of adults. In this case, Beth lied about her age and indicated that she was over 18 years old. Although Defendant’s mistaken belief that Beth was older than 18 years old may have been reasonable, mistake of age is not a defense to this charge, regardless of whether the mistake was reasonable. Therefore, the trial court did not err when it refused to instruct the jury on a mistake-of-age defense.


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