According to a recent headline, two individuals — who a sheriff referred to as "cannibals" — castrated a man after "luring" him to their hideout in the Oklahoma woods. The full story offers a no less cringe-worthy description of the events while describing what very well may prove to be a “business transaction” with a "victim" who might have been a willing participant.
As odd as this story’s facts may appear to be, it serves as a perfect opportunity to examine how affirmative defenses work in criminal cases and, more specifically, how a victim’s consent may affect the outcome.
Surgery in a cabin in the woods
When a sheriff refers to the conduct the two men engaged in as "borderline some type of activity," you know we’re dealing with something truly unique. According to officials in LeFlore County, Oklahoma, an internet search by a man in Virginia took him to a website offering castrations.
The website, which was only available to people who registered there, offered free castration surgery performed by someone with 15 years’ experience who would make a video recording of the surgery for "personal use." While that may have been more than enough information to deter most folks from going through with the procedure, the victim decided to fly to Texas to meet with the man who would ultimately perform the “surgery.”
Upon arrival, the two drove to a cabin in a wooded area in Oklahoma, where the surgery was performed under local anesthetic. Although he was told he would not be taken to a hospital should complications arise, the man performing the procedure and his assistant dropped the victim at a local hospital when they noticed excessive bleeding the day after the surgery.
After the victim told hospital staff the two men had attempted to entice him into participating in cannibalism, hospital officials notified the local sheriff. A search of the two men’s cabin and residence resulted in the seizure of body parts in a freezer along with drugs. Local authorities charged the men with felonies and misdemeanors for failing to dispose of body parts properly, maiming, assault and battery, conspiracy to perform unlicensed surgery, and charges related to the drugs.
What happens when victims consent to criminal acts?
In criminal cases, prosecutors have the burden of presenting evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offense. Defendants in criminal cases, unlike the prosecution, may rely upon the presumption of innocence without being compelled to present evidence to prove they didn’t commit the crime.
However, a case’s particular facts may reveal a defense the accused can utilize to avoid a conviction. The victim's consent to what would otherwise be criminal behavior may be a defense, provided the defendant’s attorney has evidence to prove it.
Consent is an affirmative defense. For example, someone charged with rape under Oklahoma law may offer proof that the accuser consented to engage in sexual intercourse as a defense. However, the person giving their consent must be physically and mentally capable of doing so.
Along with being capable of giving consent, the consent must be given freely and voluntarily. State law prohibits consent as a defense in rapes cases when given by victims under the following circumstances:
· When the victim is under 16 years of age.
· When the victim suffers from mental illness.
· When consent is obtained through use of threats or force.
· When the victim is intoxicated or unconscious.
The underlying premise of consent as a defense is that the alleged victim knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the activity. When someone participates in a sports activity, such as football or baseball, it is implied that doing so gives consent to foreseeable harm which may occur as a natural consequence of participating in the activity.
A batter struck by a ball thrown by a pitcher is a foreseeable consequence of playing baseball. Still, a pitcher who gets angry and throws a ball at another player between innings would not be considered a natural part of the activity.
Developing a defense strategy – Know the facts of the case
As always, developing a defense strategy for the men charged in connection with the woodland-cabin “activities” requires a thorough analysis of the evidence. Whether or not the victim voluntarily consented to the procedure is anything but clear from the facts so far reported. Was the victim made to believe the person performing the surgery was trained and capable of safely doing so?
Another factor to consider would be the charges filed against the two men. The victim's consent would not have any bearing on a person performing the procedure without being licensed or failing to dispose of the body parts properly.
As with all criminal cases, the defense attorney must look at the case from all angles, apply the evidence, and determine their client’s best defense strategy. Sometimes, that may uncover an affirmative defense. Other times, the facts may be clear on their face.