Tennessee Court of Appeals Rules that a Victim of a Sexual Crime can also be an Accomplice to the Same Crime
In an odd ruling, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, in the matter of State v. Collier, No. W2010-01606-CCA-R3-CD, ruled earlier this month that a victim in an aggravated statutory rape case can also be an accomplice to the same crime.
The defendant was a forty-two year-old man who was convicted of aggravated statutory rape after having sexual intercourse with a fourteen year-old victim. While the defendant argued at trial that he never had sexual intercourse with her, on appeal he argued that the evidence was not sufficient to convict him because the victim was, in fact, an accomplice to the criminal activity.
Under current Tennessee common law, whether a sex crime victim over the age of thirteen is an accomplice depends on whether the victim voluntarily consented to the sexual activity. See State v. Scott, 338 S.W.2d 581, 583 (Tenn. 1960). A "victim," per T.C.A. § 39-13-501(8) is defined as the "person alleged to have been subjected to criminal sexual conduct." An "accomplice," as set forth in State v. Green, 915 S.W.2d 827, 831 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1995), is defined as one who "knowingly, voluntarily, and with common intent unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime."
While the appellate court in the Collier case stated it had misgivings about classifying sex crime victims as accomplices, this did not stop it from admitting, "Under the current law, it appears that the victim in this case would legally be considered an accomplice to her own statutory rape." The appellate court reasoned that because the victim admitted to having consensual sex, she would be considered an accomplice to the crime of committing aggravated statutory rape.
The effect of this somewhat bizarre reasoning is that the victim's testimony would now be subject to "accomplice scrutiny." Under Tennessee law regarding accomplice testimony, "there must be some fact testified to, entirely independent of the accomplice's testimony, which, taken by itself, leads to the inference, not only that the crime has been committed, but also that the defendant is implicated in it; and this independent corroborative testimony must also include some fact establishing the defendant's identity." State v. Shaw, 37 S.W.3d 900, 903 (Tenn. 2001). This "accomplice scrutiny" is a higher standard than mere testimony provided by a victim. But in the end, the appellate court affirmed the defendant's conviction because other testimony and evidence corroborated with the victim/accomplice's testimony.