State v. Yelverton, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Nov. 17, 2020)

The defendant and his longtime friend, Ivy, began dating in 2017. Per Ivy’s clear and constant requests, their sexual contact with each other was limited to kissing and touching above the waist. Whenever the defendant tried to touch her below the waist, she told him to stop.

On August 1, 2017, Ivy visited the defendant at his home and went with the defendant into his bedroom where they began watching television. They then began to engage in “hot and heavy” physical contact, including kissing, touching Ivy’s breasts, and removing Ivy’s shirt, which she was “okay” with. When the defendant attempted to put his hand down Ivy’s shorts, she pushed him away and told him “no.” The defendant removed his hand momentarily but made repeated attempts. Ivy twisted her legs to keep them together, but eventually the defendant was able to remove her shorts. Ivy again told the defendant “no” and to stop because she “wasn’t ready for that.” The defendant then pinned Ivy’s hands over her head, pushed her underwear aside, and penetrated her vagina with his penis. Ivy told the defendant to stop and said “no,” but he continued to penetrate her. Eventually, Ivy gave up because the defendant did not listen.

After the events, Ivy got dressed and left the home. The defendant walked with her outside, asking if she was okay, to which she responded that she was. Ivy then left in her car. The defendant repeatedly texted Ivy after the incident, asking her via text to promise him she was okay and continuing to text her daily. The defendant made continued attempts to talk to and see Ivy, despite her pleas that he leave her alone. Five days after the incident, Ivy reported the incident to police.

The defendant was indicted on charges of second-degree forcible rape and attempted second-degree forcible rape. The defendant testified that he thought Ivy consented to sex although he admitted Ivy stated “she was not ready” that night and conceded that “she may have pushed me a little bit” when he initiated sexual contact. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree forcible rape and not guilty of attempted second-degree forcible rape.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred, or plainly erred, by failing to provide a jury instruction on the defense of consent based on the defendant’s “reasonable belief” that Ivy consented to the sexual acts. The Court of Appeals reviewed the argument under the plain error standard because the defendant did not request this instruction at trial. The Court rejected this argument, noting that neither the Court nor the State Supreme Court have recognized a “reasonable belief of consent” defense to rape. The Court cited State v. Moorman, 320 N.C. 387, 389–92 (1987), in which the Supreme Court held “that a defendant could be convicted of rape by force and against the will of the victim, who was incapacitated and asleep at the time, despite the defendant’s testimony that he mistook the victim for someone he knew and believed she consented to vaginal intercourse.” The Court concluded that because a defendant’s knowledge of whether the victim consented is not a material element of rape and mistaken belief in consent has not been recognized as a defense to rape, the trial court did not err in failing to provide an instruction to that effect. The Court contrasted other statutes involving rape and sex offense in which the General Assembly has used reasonableness language, such as with respect to revocation of consent in G.S. 14-27.20(1a)(b).

The defendant alternatively argued that he had been denied his right to effective assistance of counsel because his defense counsel did not request an instruction on the defendant’s reasonable belief of consent defense. The Court rejected that argument based on the conclusion that the defendant was not entitled to the instruction.