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State v. Lowe - 2007-Ohio-606, 112 Ohio St. 3d 507, 861 N.E.2d 512

Rule:

The primary goal of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent in enacting the statute. A court must first look to the plain language of the statute itself to determine the legislative intent. Courts apply a statute as it is written when its meaning is unambiguous and definite. An unambiguous statute must be applied in a manner consistent with the plain meaning of the statutory language.

Facts:

On March 19, 2003, defendant Paul Lowe had consensual sex with his 22-year-old stepdaughter, the biological daughter of his wife. Thereafter, he was charged with one count of sexual battery, a felony violation of Ohio's incest statute. Lowe pleaded not guilty and filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the facts alleged in the indictment did not constitute an offense under the Ohio Incest Statute because the use of the term "stepchild" in the statute signified a clear legislative intent to have the law apply to children, not adults. In the alternative, Lowe argued that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to his case because the government has no legitimate interest in regulating sex between consenting adults. After the trial court overruled his motion, Lowe changed his plea to no contest, was convicted, and was sentenced to 120 days of incarceration and three years of community control. The trial court also classified him as a sexually oriented offender. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld Lowe's conviction, holding that Ohio Incest Statute clearly and unambiguously prohibits sexual conduct between a stepparent and stepchild regardless of the stepchild's age. The court of appeals also held that Lowe does not have a constitutionally protected right to engage in sex with his stepdaughter. Upon discretionary appeal, the case was heard by the state supreme court.

Issue:

Did the Ohio Incest Statute prohibit consensual sexual conduct between a stepparent and stepchild, regardless of age?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that the plain language of § 2907.03(A)(5), the Ohio Incest Statute, clearly prohibited sexual conduct with one's stepchild while the stepparent-stepchild relationship existed. It made no exception for consent of the stepchild or the stepchild's age. Further, using the rational-basis test, the statute served the legitimate state interest of protecting the family unit and family relationships. Thus, as applied, the Ohio Incest Statute bore a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest in protecting the family, because it reasonably advanced its goal of protection of the family unit from the destructive influence of sexual relationships between parents or stepparents and their children or stepchildren.

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