In Tennessee, aggravated statutory rape occurs when there is sexual penetration between a victim, age thirteen to seventeen, and a person more than ten years older than the victim. When proving statutory rape allegations at trial, any individual incident must be distinguished sufficiently to separate it from other alleged incidents and to establish proper jurisdiction over the defendant, as well as to meet the elements of the offense. A specific date is not necessary. Where multiple incidents are alleged, a bill of particulars filed before the trial date may be helpful in further distinguishing the specific allegations. In the recent case of State v. Harding, M2011-00597-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 1-25-2013), appellate argument that six individual counts of aggravated statutory rape were not sufficiently distinguished by date in the indictment was weakened by the fact that no bill of particulars had been requested before trial.
In the Harding case, a defendant had been accused of a number of separate incidents involving a sixteen year old girl, which allegedly occurred in January and February 2009. The twenty-seven year old defendant was the uncle of one of the victim’s friends. The defendant and the victim began to frequently text message each other and the text messages allegedly led to a number of sexual encounters at a boat dock and one at the defendant’s home.
After convictions on six separate counts, and consecutive sentences of four years on each count (for a total effective sentence of twenty-four years), the defendant appealed the convictions and sentences. One of the arguments raised on appeal was that the indictment did not sufficiently distinguish the alleged individual incidents to give the defendant enough notice to prepare for trial. The defendant argued that the victim was old enough to be able to remember specific dates and should have been required to do so. The defendant’s argument suggested that perhaps the indictment allegations were unnecessarily vague and put him at a strategic disadvantage at trial.
In rejecting the argument, the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that the defendant did not raise this issue before trial and did not request a bill of particulars. Though finding the argument waived, the Court did go on to also conclude that the indictment was specific enough to provide adequate notice and properly state the offenses alleged.
For more information on sufficiency of criminal indictments and when a bill of particulars may be needed, contact The Lanzon Firm.