On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court got rid of an antiquated rule that classified statutory rape victims as potential criminal accomplices and eliminated the requirement that testimony of the victim be corroborated by other independent evidence.
The unanimous decision upholds the statutory rape conviction of DeWayne Collier, who was convicted in 2010 of raping a 14-year-old Arkansas girl. According to legal filings, prosecutors alleged that the girl went to a friend’s house and called Collier in Memphis to come pick her up. The state contends the victim stayed the night at Collier’s house, where he had intercourse with her numerous times. The next day Collier returned the girl to her parents’ house. Once there, the police, who had been alerted by the girl’s parents that she was missing, questioned her and took her to a local hospital for an examination. During the hospital examination, semen was found on her jeans, but medical experts were unable to determine when the semen had been deposited or if it was Collier’s.
At the trial, the girl testified that she had a relationship with Collier, but no other medical evidence confirmed that intercourse had occurred between the girl and Collier. At the close of the trial, the jury found Collier guilty of aggravated statutory rape, based mostly on the testimony of the victim. Collier appealed, arguing the evidence admitted at trial was insufficient to support his conviction. In pressing his appeal, Collier relied on several previous court rulings that the testimony of a statutory rape victim had to be corroborated by other proof. Collier’s argument was persuasive; the Court of Criminal Appeals found that the victim was an accomplice to the crime and followed the rule requiring corroboration. But the court also affirmed Collier’s conviction, finding that the girl’s testimony was substantiated by other evidence. In other words, on appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirmed the worst possible reading of Tennessee law while simultaneously affirming Collier’s conviction.
The Tennessee Supreme Court agreed to review the case to address the history of requiring that statutory rape convictions be corroborated by evidence, in addition to victim testimony. According to the court, the testimony of the victim of a statutory rape, if accredited by the jury, doesn’t have to be supported by other corroborative evidence. The ruling puts Tennessee among the majority of states who have found there was “no defensible reason” to classify minor victims of sex crimes as accomplices or to characterize their testimony as “inherently unreliable.”
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It’s an outcome that was more in doubt than many people would hope. Despite the fact that minors cannot, as a matter of law, consent to sex with an adult, it has been said that courts still embrace the idea of the “juvenile temptress” and reinforce purity culture expectations on young victims that excuse predatory behavior by adults.