Will Owen Labrie Go To Jail? The Ex-St. Paul's School Student's Lawyers Have A Clear Goal In Mind
In late August, a New Hampshire jury acquitted 19-year-old Owen Labrie of three felony charges; Labrie had been accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old classmate at St. Paul's School in Concord. But the jury did find him guilty of three misdemeanor accounts of sexual assault, a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child, and a felony charge of using a computer to entice a minor. A judge then ordered Labrie give up his passport, and set Labrie's bail at $15,000 until he is sentenced on Oct. 29. Will Owen Labrie go to jail for his charges? His lawyers are trying to get his one felony charge dismissed, but he could still face jail time.
During his testimony in court, Labrie, who was 18 at the time of the incident, said he and the classmate did not have sex. He testified that he and his classmate kissed and engaged in sexual foreplay but stopped just short of sex, according to the Concord Monitor. His accuser claimed that she agreed to kissing Labrie and other physical touch, but she said in her testimony that Labrie forcibly penetrated her digitally and then with his penis after she said "no, no, keep it up here," and motioned above her waist.
Both the accuser and Labrie said the interaction took place as part of a St. Paul's ritual called the Senior Salute, where graduating students allegedly try to hook up with their younger classmates, according to CBS News. St. Paul's School hasn't denied the existence of such a tradition, but it did say the "current allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our School or our values, our rules, or the people who represent our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff," according to ABC News. Though the jury didn't buy Labrie's claim that he chose at the last minute not to have sex with the underage girl, it did believe that the state couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their sex was not consensual.
The prosecution said Labrie will be forced to register as a Level II sex offender for life because of the computer charge, according to The Daily Beast. The computer charge also carries a prison sentence of up to seven years, while the misdemeanor charges carry a maximum of four years in prison. But whether Labrie could go to prison for up to 11 years will depend on if his lawyers can convince a judge to dismiss the felony charge, according to the Concord Monitor. Judge Larry Smukler said Friday that he would give Labrie's attorneys two weeks to prepare an argument to convince him to drop the felony charge.
So far, lead defense attorney J.W. Carney has said that the felony charge should be dismissed since all other felony charges against Labrie were dismissed, according to the Monitor. Furthermore, he argued that the statute that made Labrie's computer charge a felony mandated a felony charge for no reason — it mandated a felony regardless of the level of alleged sexual assault, which he said was something the defense should be allowed to argue against.
One expert told The New York Times that the jury's choice to convict Labrie of one felony charge while acquitting him of all others seemed like a compromise. Neither the defense nor the prosecution called expert witnesses or analysts to talk about consent. Jennifer Long, a former assistant district attorney who trains lawyers on the prosecution of sexual violence, told the Times the acquittal may have come more from murky questions surrounding consent and when it has been violated:
When there's a compromise verdict, I think you’re always searching for reasons why it happened. It's natural to wonder, is that fully understood or accepted by the jury or a community as a whole — the idea of consent, that it can be withdrawn, that consent to one sexual activity doesn’t mean consent to anything and everything?
During the trial, Labrie's accuser claimed she was "frozen in fear" once Labrie started penetrating her, but Abbe Smith, a Georgetown law professor and director of the school’s Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic, said an inexperienced teenager might not be able to tell when a woman is "frozen in fear," according to The Daily Beast. She said the "frozen in fear" logic shouldn't be the basis for a claim that sex was actively denied and it certainly shouldn't be the foundation of a conviction:
I don't think we should necessarily infer that a silent girl or woman is a fearful girl or woman. That cannot be the basis of a criminal conviction.
As with many sexual assault cases at college campuses across the country, Labrie's case boiled down to a he-said she-said argument. Labrie cried after the verdict was read, according to the Times. Felony or no felony, Labrie's future looks uncertain.
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