It is not the purpose of a criminal trial to decide what is moral. Rather, the objective of a trial is to determine whether a person charged is guilty of breaking a criminal statute, and sometimes that decision comes down to an interpretation of the law.
The onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is presumed innocent pending any verdict. And the aim of the defense is to achieve the best possible outcome for the defendant.
Every criminal charge carries negative implications for the defendant. Even if an individual is acquitted, the proceedings can cripple relationships and scuttle careers. This can be especially true of sex crime allegations.
Prompting these observations is the story of a trial that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It took place in Iowa, but questions raised by the case are surely a concern for every state in the nation. As it happens, the case didn’t do much to answer the question centering on the ability of individuals who suffer from dementia to consent to sex.
The accused was a 78-year-old man. He had been charged with third-degree sexual abuse of his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife last May in the nursing home where she was a resident. She died in August.
Prosecutors alleged the couple had had sex on the date in question. It also presented testimony indicating that the husband had been told his wife’s condition made her incapable of consenting to sex. However, the defendant testified that while they had held hands and kissed on the day of the alleged crime, no sexual contact occurred.
After 13 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted the husband. Some legal analysts said it isn’t clear if that’s because the panel decided the wife was able to consent or because the prosecution hadn’t proven sex took place.
The important question related to capacity to consent still lingers as a result, but the jury did its job and determined the defendant did not commit the crime alleged.