CONNECTICUT – The state Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a Bridgeport man who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a severely handicapped woman.
Justices ruled, 4-3, that despite evidence that the 26-year-old woman cannot speak and has little body movement, there was no evidence she could not communicate her refusal to have sex with the defendant, Richard Fourtin Jr.
Fourtin’s lawyer, Senior Assistant Public Defender Nicole Donzello, declined to comment on the decision.
Fourtin, 28, was convicted in 2008 of attempted sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison.
The woman, who was not identified in court, has severe cerebral palsy and cannot verbally communicate, according to court documents.
The ruling centers around the state proving that the victim was physically helpless at the time of the attack, which is defined as ‘‘unconscious or for any other reason is physically unable to communicate
unwillingness to an act.”
However, defense lawyers argued that there was evidence she could communicate by biting, kicking, screaming and gesturing.
“(W)e, like the Appellate Court, ‘’are not persuaded that the state produced any credible evidence that the [victim] was either unconscious or so uncommunicative that she was physically incapable of manifesting to the defendant her lack of consent to sexual intercourse at the time of the alleged sexual assault,’ the opinion states.
State Rep Gerald Fox III (D-Stamford), who serves as House Chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he will push for legislation to clarify state law.
Several local groups that work with victims are outraged by the decision.
“We are incredibly disappointed with the State Supreme Court’s decision in the Fourtin case,” said Anna Doroghazi, director of public policy and communication at Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services said in a statement. “The court’s interpretation of what it means to be ‘physically helpless’ jeopardizes the safety of people with disabilities.”
“By implying that the victim in this case should have bitten or kicked her assailant, this ruling effectively holds people with disabilities to a higher standard than the rest of the population when it comes to proving lack of consent in sexual assault cases,” Doroghazi said. “Failing to bite an assailant is not the same thing as consenting to sexual activity.”
The Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities said the state should be protecting people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than people who do not have disabilities. Our justice system should provide them with protection, not require them to resist their attackers,” James McGaughey, the organization’s executive director said.