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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Being Members of Same Family Cannot Be Sole Ground for Impaired-Consent Rape Charge

Being a member of the same family does not qualify as a “mental or physical condition” that would allow for a charge of impaired-consent rape, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

A Supreme Court majority reversed two of six rape convictions of a Wood County man charged with raping his step-daughter and step-niece. Prosecutors used the “familial relationship” between Michael C. Horn and the children as the basis for charging him with having sexual conduct with a person whose ability to resist is substantially impaired by a mental or physical condition.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Michael P. Donnelly stated that lawmakers did not intend to have the term “mental or physical condition” apply to the mere status of being family members. Justice Donnelly noted that rape charges based on threatened or actual force apply to family members and Horn’s convictions on those grounds stand.

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice Donnelly’s opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor concurred in judgment only.

Prosecutors Pursue Two Grounds for Charges
Horn was charged with four counts of rape of his step-daughter and two counts of rape of his step-niece between September and December 2013.

Three of those charges were filed under R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(c) and (B) and stated that the girls’ ability to resist or consent to sexual contact was substantially impaired because of a mental or physical condition or that Horn knew or had reason to know the girls could not resist because of an impairment.

One of those counts was based on the step-daughter being asleep at the time of the incident. A second count was based solely on the step-daughter’s familial relationship with Horn. A third count was based on the step-niece’s familial relationship with Horn and a claim that she was a “low functioning” child.

Three other counts of raped were based on R.C. 2907.02(A)(2) and (B), charging that the girls were forced to submit by force or threat of force.

A jury convicted Horn of all six charges, which carried sexually-violent-predator specifications . For sentencing purposes, the three compelled-by-force counts were merged with the three impaired-consent counts. Horn was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison for each of the three counts to be served consecutively.

Horn appealed his convictions on several grounds, including that the state failed to prove that under R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(c), his victims’ ability to resist or consent was substantially impaired because of a mental or physical condition. However, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions.

Horn appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider his argument that a familial relationship could constitute a “mental or physical condition.”

Terms Undefined in State Law
Justice Donnelly explained that “familial relationship” is not defined in state law and no mentions of the term in prior Supreme Court decisions help define the term in conjunction with the phrase “mental or physical condition.” The best definition that can be gleaned from various uses of the phrase “familial relationship” is that it indicates two or more people are from the same family, the opinion stated.

Lawmakers also have not defined “mental or physical condition.” Based on its context within the impaired-consent rape law, the word “condition” describes something “suffered by the alleged victim without reference to the accused,” or something that affects the victim independently, the opinion stated. The Court noted that Horn listed bipolar disorder, dementia, and muscular dystrophy as examples of mental and physical conditions.

“It is clear to us that a ‘familial relationship’ is not a ‘mental or physical condition.’ The state does not seriously attempt to counter this conclusion,” the opinion stated.

The Court wrote the prosecutors were more focused on the phrase “substantial impairment” in R.C. 2907.02(A)(1)(c) when charging Horn. The opinion stated the approach ignores the law’s requirement that it must be a “substantial impairment” caused by a “mental or physical” condition.

Because the family relationship could not be grounds for the charge, the Court reversed the Sixth District’s decision on the two counts where the familial relationship was part of the charge. However, one of the two charges was also based on the grounds that the step-niece was “low functioning.” The Court remanded the case to the Sixth District to reconsider the ruling only on the low-functioning claim.

2018-0743. State v. Horn, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-960.

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