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Will “Rape by Fraud” Become a Crime in New Jersey?

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate connection between rape and fraud.  But if a controversial new bill passes in the New Jersey Assembly, telling a lie in order to have a sexual relationship could become a crime.  The bill has stirred up sharp debate, with supporters and opponents making strong arguments for and against the proposed legislation.  What do you think of the bill?

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“We Have to Look at Rape as More Than Sexual Contact Without Consent”

Under New Jersey’s current laws, many different actions can lead to sexual assault charges — but lying isn’t one of them.  There are provisions to address everything from physical force, to the age of the victim, to whether the defendant uses a weapon.  But now, one lawmakers wants to expand the legal definition of sexual assault to cover intentional deceit.  As bill sponsor and Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) explains, “You probably would not consent to someone who purported to be a million different things other than they are.”

Assemblyman Singleton’s “rape by fraud” bill, formally dubbed A-3908, is encouraging lively debate among politicians and members of the general public.  For some, like author Joyce Short, A-3908 would be a welcome improvement to the state’s standing laws.

“When you are told lies of identity,” says Short, “you’re basically having a sexual relationship with a person who is a total stranger.”

Short says she was lied to by her ex-husband, and is a strong supporter of Singelton’s proposal based on her own personal experience.  “He lied about his marital status, he lied about his education.  He said he had a bachelor’s in accounting from NYU and was, in fact, a high school dropout,” says Short.

Short goes on to draw parallels between “rape by fraud” and the Bernie Madoff case, saying, “Just like Bernie Madoff is in prison because he stole money from people by defrauding them, someone can vitiate your knowing consent by defrauding you in order to have sex.”

“We think it is important to folks to be protected,” says Singleton, “and this is just another way to provide that protection.”

Singleton says his inspiration for A-3908 comes from a recent criminal case in which Florence woman Mischele Lewis was scammed out of $5,000 by her boyfriend, a Cherry Hill con artist posing as a “government official” under the name “Liam Allen.”  Lewis eventually discovered her boyfriend’s real name was William Allen Jordan — and that she’d lost $5,000 under completely false pretenses.  Prosecutors tried to charge Jordan with sexual assault by coercion, but the charges didn’t stick.  The case opened Singleton’s eyes to the broad underlying dynamics that can feed into rape and other sex crimes.

“I truly believe that we have to look at the issue of rape as more than sexual contact without consent,” the Assemblyman urges.  “Fraud invalidates any semblance of consent just as forcible sexual contact does. This legislation is designed to provide our state’s judiciary with another tool to assess situations where this occurs and potentially provide a legal remedy to those circumstances.”

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Opponents Say Bill is Too Broad and Ambiguous

While Singleton’s proposal has drawn support from some, others argue that the bill trivializes violent, forceful rape — and ambiguously lumps disparate crimes into the same blanket category.

“In criminal cases it really should be black and white,” urges defense lawyer Greg Gianforcaro.  In Gianforcaro’s opinion, the bill brings up a troubling question: “Is a prosecutor going to be able to prove that the sexual relations were solely based upon what the defendant in this case claimed to be?”

Another defense attorney, Alan Zegas, raises similar concerns.  Not only is interpretation of the law nebulous to attorneys, as Gianforcaro cautions — for Zegas, it’s also worryingly ambiguous for the general public.

“What if a man were to say to a woman ‘I love you’ and engage in sex and he really didn’t love her?” Zegas posits.  “It could be as simple as that.  The definition is so broad that it doesn’t put the citizens of the state on fair notice of what it is that constitutes the crime.”

“For those who say it’s a bit of gray area, I think the law allows prosecutors to use their best judgment,” counters Assemblyman Singleton in response to criticisms.  “Best judgment” will also be left open in terms of punishment.

“The punishment aspect, that part we didn’t touch,” says Singleton.  “The prosecutors and the judges and the jurors would be able to use discretion.”

Sex crimes in New Jersey can carry sentences ranging from five to 20 years.  Under the new bill, a convicted defendant’s punishment would align with the normal sentence imposed for the crime in question.

“The biggest thing,” Singleton summarizes, “is that in protecting victims from rape, we want to make sure prosecutors have every tool at their disposal.”

If you’ve been charged with rape or other sex crimes, call the New Jersey criminal defense lawyers of Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania for a free and private legal consultation.

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