State Supreme Court Overturns Rule Classifying Statutory Rape Victims As Accomplices

Monday, August 12, 2013

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to apply an antiquated rule classifying minor victims of sex offenses as accomplices in the crime and eliminated the requirement that testimony of the victim be corroborated by other independent evidence. The ruling upholds the aggravated statutory rape conviction of DeWayne Collier of Shelby County.

On Sept. 5, 2008, a 14-year-old female high school student who was scheduled to perform with the marching band left school, went to a friend’s house, telephoned the 42-year-old Collier, and arranged to meet with him. The victim spent the night and the following day at Collier’s Shelby County residence. During this time, they engaged in sexual intercourse several times. The next evening, Collier drove the victim to her home, dropping her off at the end of her driveway so that her parents would not detect him.

The police, who had been alerted by the victim’s parents that she was missing, questioned the victim and took her to a local hospital for examination. Semen was found on the victim’s jeans, but medical experts were unable to determine when the semen had been deposited or whether it was that of Collier. Although the victim admitted at trial that she had a relationship with Collier, no other medical evidence confirmed that Collier had engaged in sex with the victim.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury found Collier guilty of aggravated statutory rape based primarily upon the testimony of the victim. On appeal, Collier argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because of several prior court rulings that the testimony of a statutory rape victim had to be corroborated by other proof. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the victim was an accomplice to the crime, criticized but followed the rule requiring corroboration, yet affirmed the conviction, finding that her testimony was substantiated by other evidence.

The Supreme Court granted review to address the history of the corroboration requirement, beginning with an 1895 case involving a charge of incest, and ruled that the testimony of the victim of a statutory rape, if accredited by the jury, need not be supported by corroborative proof. By so holding, the Court adopted the majority rule among the states, observing that there was “no defensible reason” to classify minor victims of sex crimes as accomplices or to characterize their testimony as “inherently unreliable.”

To read the State of Tennessee v. DeWayne Collier Opinion authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, visit TNCourts.gov.


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