Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Appeals Court Reverses Priest's Clergy Sexual Misconduct Conviction

In State of Minnesota v. Wenthe, (MN App., April 7, 2014), a Minnesota state appellate court reversed the conviction of Christopher Thomas Wenthe, a Catholic priest who had been convicted of violating Minn. Stat. § 609.344 which criminalizes sexual penetration by a member of the clergy where the victim is receiving religious or spiritual advice. The criminal complaint against Wenthe charged that sexual conduct occurred during the course of a single meeting in which the victim sought or received spiritual advice. The appellate court concluded that the trial judge had given two erroneous jury instructions.  Since there was evidence of different acts of sexual conduct between the priest and the adult female victim on different days, jurors should have been told that they must unanimously agree on the one of these that constituted the single meeting. The jurors should also have been instructed that the state must prove that Wenthe knew the victim was seeking or received spiritual or religious advice during that meeting. Finally the appellate court held that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence of the adult complainant's sexual history when the prosecution opened the door by eliciting testimony from the victim that she was sexually inexperienced. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the decision. (See prior related posting.)