Incest charge against Rota teenager is dismissed
Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has dismissed the incest charge filed against a male teenager accused of having sex with a then-17-year-old girl on Rota.
Camacho determined that William Atalig Jr. is not an uncle of the girl under the common English definition of “uncle.”
Thus, the judge said, Atalig and the alleged victim are not sufficiently related for the alleged sexual encounter between them to qualify as incest.
Camacho said if one were to use a Chamorro definition for who would qualify as an “uncle,” the pool of potential “uncles” would be far larger than the English language definition.
In an incest case, the judge said, such a large pool of potential “uncles” could create confusion as to which relationships would actually qualify as incest.
In the footnote of his ruling, Camacho said the Commonwealth Legislature has not applied Chamorro and Carolinian customs to incest.
Camacho was hesitant to extend the scope of the Commonwealth Code pertaining to incest to include a Chamorro definition of the word “uncle,” as this approach would leave open a wide range of questions as to when cultural terms should be applied rather than English terms.
By expanding the term “uncle” to include cultural definitions, Camacho said he would be allowing vastly inconsistent and varied results in incest cases.
In a jurisdiction as diverse as the CNMI, using cultural definitions of “uncle” would produce inconsistent results depending on the cultural background of the individuals involved, Camacho said.
Under the Commonwealth Code, incest occurs when a person aged 18 or older engages in sexual penetration of a person “who is related either legitimately or illegitimately” to them in one of three ways.
One way is an ancestor or descendant of the whole or half-blood; the second is a brother or sister of the whole or half-blood; and finally an uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece by blood.
Camacho said the key issue in this case is whether Atalig is related to the alleged victim as an uncle by blood.
Camacho said the Commonwealth Code does not define either “uncle” or “niece” for the purpose of determining the applicability of an incest charge.
Therefore, he said, the court turns to the “common and approved usage of the English language.”
Atalig, through assistant public defender Matthew Meyer, argued that an English dictionary definition of “uncle” should apply in this case.
The government, through assistant attorney general Shannon Foley, urged the court to apply traditional Chamorro kinship definitions, rather than English language terms.
Camacho said he is not persuaded by the Commonwealth’s arguments. He said the Commonwealth Criminal Code requires application of the common English language meaning of “uncle.”
According to the parties, the alleged victim is related to Atalig by blood. Saipan Tribune opted not to disclose the specific relationship to protect the identity of the alleged victim.
Although the girl was 17 at the time, Atalig was not charged with sexual abuse of a minor because he and the girl are only a year apart in age.
The government charged Atalig with sexual assault in the first degree, sexual assault in the second degree, incest, assault and battery, and disturbing the peace.
At the preliminary hearing last Dec. 24, the court found no probable cause to charge Atalig with sexual assault and disturbing the peace charges. The government chose not to pursue the assault and battery charge.
With regard to the sexual assault charges, the court questioned whether there was actually a lack of consent in the alleged encounter.
The issue presented in the motion was whether this particular incident would qualify as incest within the meaning of the law.
The government asked the court to reconsider the court’s ruling as to the finding of no probable cause for sexual assault in the first and second degrees. Atalig opposed the motion. The court has yet to rule on the motion for reconsideration.