Is Force an Element of Forcible Rape?

The answer would seem to be obvious.  A person is guilty of forcible rape if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person by force and against the will of the other person.  N.C.G.S. §§ 14-27.21 (first-degree); 14-27.22 (second-degree).  Our Supreme Court has, at least once, found insufficient evidence of “the element of force” and reversed a rape conviction on that basis.  See State v. Alston, 310 N.C. 399, 408, 312 S.E.2d 470, 476 (1984).  Our Supreme Court recently held, however, that a juvenile petition for sexual battery was not defective for failure to allege force.  “[O]ne cannot engage in nonconsensual sexual contact,” the Court said, “without the application of some ‘force,’ however slight.”  In the Matter of J.U., 384 N.C. 618, 625, 887 S.E.2d 859, 864 (2023).  The requisite force, in other words, is inherent in the act.  The significance of that holding transcends its context: juvenile petitions are held to the same standards as indictments, which generally must allege all the elements, and misdemeanor sexual battery is statutorily defined using the same terms as forcible rape.  This post examines the element of force in cases of rape.

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