Mental Incapacitation Law Revictimizes Survivors

The North Carolina statute defining mental incapacitation is harmful for survivors of sexual assault because it perpetuates victim blaming. North Carolina needs to change the way our criminal law defines mental incapacitation because, currently, there is a legal loophole that does not protect sexual assault victims who voluntarily consume alcohol. The Court of Appeals case, State v. Haddock, established the loophole.

Background of State v. Haddock

On December 31, 2005, defendant Kinsey Haddock was the designated driver for a young woman (also known as S.B.) and her friends as they visited various bars and restaurants to celebrate New Year’s’ Eve. After being asked to leave a friend’s apartment due to her “loud and obnoxious” behavior, Haddock took S.B. to his apartment. S.B. did not know where she was, and soon passed out “from excessive drinking.” Haddock then proceeded to rape S.B. In April 2007, the Superior Court in Guilford County found the defendant guilty of second degree forcible rape. However, Haddock appealed and succeeded in his appeal in August 2008 based on the mental incapacitation legal loophole.3 Victims who voluntarily consume alcohol, and then are sexually assaulted, are not protected by NC criminal law.

Retrieved from ConsentEd.

The Case

The Court of Appeals case State v. Haddock created the mental incapacitation loophole. Undoubtedly, the facts of the case demonstrate how dangerous this loophole is. In 2006, defendant Kinsey Haddock was charged with sexually assaulting the plaintiff. In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, Haddock took S.B. back to his apartment.  Then, S.B. “passed out from excessive drinking.” After S.B. passed out, Haddock proceeded to rape her. The defendant appealed the initial guilty verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Court’s initial verdict on the basis that “his constitutional right to a unanimous jury was violated when the court gave ambiguous instructions to the jury.”3 During the court case, when the trial judge was instructing the jury before they came to a verdict, the law regarding mental incapacitation was misstated.

Retrieved from Student Health 101.

Legal Definition of Mental Incapacitation

N.C. Gen.Stat. § 14-27.1(2) defines a mentally incapacitated victim as “…a victim who due to any act committed upon the victim is rendered substantially incapable of either appraising the nature of his or her conduct, or resisting the act of vaginal intercourse or a sexual act.”2 In State v. Haddock, the trial judge excluded “due to any act committed upon” from the definition of mental incapacitation. During the appeal, the defense argued that “due to any act committed upon” must have some meaning to have been written into the original definition of mental incapacitation. The judge agreed with the defense, and Haddock’s conviction was reversed. Unfortunately, the phrase “due to any act committed upon,” whether intentional or not, excludes a significant population of victims: those who voluntarily consumed alcohol.

Retrieved from Reuters.

The Issue

State v. Haddock set the precedent of condoning the assault of people after they have voluntarily consumed alcohol. The reality is:

  • Men are more likely than women to assume that a woman who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. 40% of men who think this way also believe it is acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.8
  • 78.7% of female victims first experienced rape before the age of 25.6
  • In the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010-2012), 9% of female respondents experienced completed alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration in their lifetime.4  
  • 24.4% of bisexual women experienced completed alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration in their lifetime.5
  • It is more prevalent among college women to experience sexual assault after the voluntary consumption of alcohol compared to the involuntary consumption.1
  • An estimated 4 million girls experienced rape involving drugs or alcohol.7

The number one method of sexual assault in a study of client colleges by an insurance company was incapacitation. Retrieved from United Educators.

Victims are being further re-victimized by a legal system that is not providing them with validation and support, and is not holding perpetrators accountable. Changing the mental incapacitation law to include survivors who voluntarily drink is the right step towards a legal system that listens to and believes survivors.

Further Reading

1 Lawyer, S., Resnick, H., Bakanic, V., Burkett, T., & Kilpatrick, D. (2010). Forcible,
Drug-Facilitated, and Incapacitated Rape and Sexual Assault Among Undergraduate
Women. Journal of American College Health,58(5), 453-460.
2 N.C. Gen.Stat. §14-27.1(2)
3 State v. Haddock
4 The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010-2012)
5 The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation
6 Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
7 Sexual Violence in Youth: Findings from the 2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey .
8 Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands