Legislation that closes a loophole in Oklahoma’s rape statute that has allowed some convicted rapists to avoid harsh penalties is awaiting Gov. Brad Henry’s signature.


Legislation that closes a loophole in Oklahoma’s rape statute that has allowed some convicted rapists to avoid harsh penalties is awaiting Gov. Brad Henry’s signature.
The measure, approved by the House and Senate before the Legislature adjourned last week, amends the state’s first-degree rape statute to include cases where the victim is unconscious or on drugs.
Earlier this year, prosecutors in Tulsa were forced to reduce a defendant’s first-degree rape charge to second-degree rape because the victim had been drugged, said the bill’s author, Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa.
A conviction for first-degree rape carries the possibility of life in prison, but the maximum punishment for second-degree rape is 15 years in prison.
“This legislation will make it easier to subject rapists to the full punishment allowed under the law,” Peterson said.
A spokesman for Henry, Paul Sund, said Thursday that the governor plans to sign the legislation into law next week.
Current law authorizes a first-degree rape charge “where the victim was incapable through mental illness or any other unsoundness of mind, whether temporary or permanent, of giving legal consent.”
Tulsa prosecutors used that definition to file a first-degree rape charge against a former nurse who was accused of raping a drugged patient at a Tulsa hospital.
But the defendant’s defense attorney argued that “unsoundness of mind” does not qualify when an alleged victim is drugged and unconscious. A judge ordered the man bound over for trial on a second-degree rape charge in April, and prosecutors decided not to appeal the ruling. “I think it was an oversight in state law,” Peterson said.
In a similar case in Coyle, a teenage girl recently attended a party and was given a drink she now believes contained a “date rape” drug. After passing out, the girl says she was raped and woke up with six men in the room. The only person charged in the case, a 24-year old Coyle man, is accused of second-degree rape by intoxication. The new legislation updates state statutes to authorize a first-degree rape charge when the act is “accomplished where the victim is intoxicated by a narcotic or anesthetic agent” or in instances “where the victim is at the time unconscious of the nature of the act and this fact is known to the accused.”
Members of the House and Senate moved quickly to amend the state’s rape law after learning about the Tulsa case. The measure was approved by both chambers without opposition.
“It’s encouraging,” Peterson said. “We can work in a bipartisan way to get good legislation passed. It can be done.”