Prior to 1974, a rape conviction was not able to be obtained on the uncorroborated testimony of the victim. In order to corroborate a testimony, the victim would have to be able to produce an eye witness or some other type of physical evidence. Prior to 1974, there was no such thing as DNA evidence. The ability to obtain a conviction on rape would be almost impossible. There is rarely an eyewitness to testify on behalf of a rape victim.
In fact, in 1967, rape was a misdemeanor offense. Rape in the present day is considered a felony offense. Attitudes have changed dramatically concerning sexual offenses. It seems incomprehensible in the present day that a rape conviction would require an eye witness or other physical evidence in order to get a conviction. However, even in 1967, some prosecutors were aware that the legislature needed to create changes in the laws to make them equitable to societal attitudes of the time. In fact, in one rape case the defendant was charged with assault in the second degree with the intent to rape and assault in the third degree. The defendant testified that he had completed the rape. The reason that he chose to testify to the completed rape was because a completed rape required eye witness testimony or other corroborating evidence. The offense of attempted rape or assault with the intent to rape, did not require the addition of corroborating evidence.
The defendant appealed the conviction because he contended that the prosecution was attempting to circumvent the requirement of corroborating evidence in rape cases by charging a crime that does not require corroboration. The court reviewed the case and determined that the fact that a prosecutor could conceivably circumvent the requirement of corroboration by charging a lesser included offense would result in a sentence that is greater for the lesser offense than it was for the completion of the rape.
Legislatively, it is offensive that an attempted rape could achieve a tougher sentence than a completed one simply because of the way that the laws are written and applied. It was because of this idea that the offense was completed that accounted for the conviction being overturned. The fact that the offender testified that he had accomplished the rape caused the Supreme Court of New York to overturn his conviction of attempted rape. Looking back on this type of legal application is bizarre to those of us in the modern day. However, it is important for all of us to remember that the weight of crimes against women has shifted dramatically in recent years. Historically, it was the responsibility of the man of the house to protect the women who lived in the house. There was fault applied to rape that had nothing at all to do with the offender. Rape was considered to be an overwhelming sexual impulse. Now days it is viewed as violence against women. Prior to 1974, it was not uncommon for a rape victim to have to explain to the court if she was not a virgin. She would have to explain what type of clothing she was wearing because if her clothing was deemed to be too provocative, the man could plead that she was too enticing for him to resist his sexual urges and the assault would then be her fault.
We currently have different social feelings about this crime. Most people are offended by the thought that the victim was usually blamed for the assault prior to 1974. Also, prior to 1974, most rapes went unreported because of the trauma of appearing in court and having their personal lives tried as responsible for the actions of their rapists. The concept that a woman could entice an otherwise normal male to become a rapist was a common notion in the 1960’s that left many women on trial for their own rapes.
At Stephen Bilkis & Associates a criminal lawyer, is available in convenient offices located throughout New York and the Metropolitan area. Whether you have been charged with sex crimes, theft of drug possession, our legal team can provide you with advice in a difficult situation.