High court asked ‘to correct’ judge’s ruling on sex crime law

OAG says Camacho’s order ‘threatens the lives of thousands of CNMI teenagers’

The Office of the Attorney General asked the CNMI Supreme Court Thursday to step in and correct the alleged mistake of Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho in dismissing the first-degree sexual assault charge filed against an 18-year-old student accused of breaking into a neighbor’s house and raping a 16-year-old girl.

Assistant attorney general Matthew C. Baisley asked the high court to immediately issue a writ of mandamus that instructs Camacho to reinstate the sexual assault charge against the suspect, George Norris Langu Jr.

Baisley also asked the high court to instruct the trial court that there is no legislative loophole to the first-degree sexual assault statute.

The prosecutor said Camacho’s order offends basic principles of legal reasoning as well as justice.

Citing a loophole in the law, Camacho dismissed during a preliminary hearing last Sept. 15 the first-degree sexual assault charge filed against Langu.

Camacho found no probable cause to believe that the crime of sexual assault in the first degree has been committed. He noted that when the Legislature amended the sex crime law, it inadvertently created a loophole.

The judge said the Legislature carved out an exception to allow for what has been referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet” exception—when consenting 16-or 17-year-olds have sex with someone who is 18, 19, or 20 years old.

Camacho, however, found probable cause to believe that Langu committed the other charges: burglary, assault and battery, disturbing the peace, and criminal mischief.

The OAG then filed a motion for reconsideration, stating that Camacho’s order “threaten[s] the lives and safety of thousands of CNMI teenagers.”

It asserted that Camacho’s ruling would deter teenagers who are victims of sexual assault from coming forward to complain for fear that such complaints are now legally meritless.

The OAG filed yesterday the petition for writ of mandamus before the high court to avoid losing the government’s ability to challenge the ruling in front of the Supreme Court.

In the petition, Baisley said Camacho’s order did not include a single statutory citation, case citation, reference to legislative history, “or any indicia of legal reasoning typical of even the most rote judicial orders.”

Baisley said this was a judicial order that informed a 16-year-old victim of first degree sexual assault that the law did not protect her, and informed the public the very same.

On the contrary, he pointed out, sexual assault in the first degree is a criminal act in the CNMI.

“The Commonwealth is free to charge defendants with sexual assault in the first degree, regardless of the victim’s or offender’s age,” he said.

Baisley said first and most generally, the trial court’s order reflects a deep misunderstanding of the Commonwealth’s statutory rape laws.

He said 6 CMC Sections 1306-1310 do not include a “without consent” element because “consent” is considered a legal impossibility provided the Commonwealth can demonstrate the victim is at or under a certain age and the offender is at or over a certain age.

Baisley said it is clear that the “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions contained in the Commonwealth’s statutory rape laws simply do not apply to a charge of sexual assault in the first degree.

He said the trial court ignored settled principles of statutory interpretation that would have prevented its unprecedented ruling that sexual assault in the first degree is legal under certain circumstances.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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