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United States v. James

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
810 F.3d 674 (2016)


The federal government (plaintiff) prosecuted Christopher James (defendant) for the sexual abuse of a person physically incapable of declining participation in, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, a sexual act. The trial evidence established that James had sex with T.C., a woman incapacitated by cerebral palsy. T.C. needed assistance with all major life activities and was almost completely immobile without a wheelchair. Although T.C. could be unintelligible even to her long-term caregivers, she could and usually did express displeasure or satisfaction through glances, head nods, grunts, and moans, and on occasion she could verbalize yes or no answers to simple questions. A relative discovered James, who was drunk, having sex with T.C. The relative took T.C. to the hospital. The examining nurse testified that T.C. seemed unable to comprehend, and could not answer, the nurse's simple yes-or-no questions. The jury found James guilty, but the judge granted James's Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 29(a) motion and entered a judgment of acquittal on the grounds that the government failed to prove that, physically, T.C. was totally helpless. The government appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Tallman, J.)

Dissent (Kozinski, J.)

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