Getting Money or Sex by False Statements:

The "rape by fraud" issue noted below does raise some interesting conceptual questions, for instance "Why do we make it a crime to take property when consent is gotten through fraud, but not to get sex when consent is gotten through fraud"? But while I think the "why" is interesting and important, the bottom line strikes me as clear: There is likely to be much more injustice and suffering if the criminal law were to police a vast range of lies and concealments in sexual relationships than if the criminal law stayed out of this.

Moreover, I should note that when people get property by lies that yield a marriage, that may well not be criminal or even civilly actionable. Consider, for instance, Askew v. Askew, 22 Cal. App. 4th 942 (1994), where a court rejected a man's claim that his wife had defrauded him by marrying him without ever having loved him or been attracted to him:

Ronald testified there were “numerous discussions” with Bonnette about “passion, desire or physical attraction” before their marriage. Bonnette said (in Ronald's words) “that she loved me. That she had this lust, this passion, this desire. That I could trust her. That I could believe in her.” Later he testified that Bonnette “described the passion as being this-this-this-this-love. This-this sexual desire. This-this strong commitment. This great endorsement for me as a person.” She also said, “I am honest with you. I will always be honest with you. You can trust me. You can believe in me. I will not lie to you.” Many times Ronald asked her to tell him “if there's anything I should know about our marriage, or anything about our relationship, be honest with me. Tell me. Tell me before the marriage.” Bonnette said there was “nothing” Ronald “need[ed] to know.”

Ronald then testified he relied on these statements in transferring the five properties “into [his and] her name [jointly].” But he would not have transferred the properties if he had “known the truth” (referring to the revelations from the 1991 counseling session) that he knew “now” — i.e., that she really had no desire for him “physically” or “sexually,” that she had no “passion” for him prior to the marriage, or “during” the marriage....

Bonnette was called as part of Ronald's case-in-chief. She admitted that she did not have sexual desire for Ronald prior to or during the marriage, even though she “may,” at one point “early on in the relationship,” have told Ronald that the two of them had a “very satisfying” sexual relationship. Ronald also called a friend of the Askews who testified that in about 1989 while at dinner at a local restaurant Bonnette told her that she did not love Ronald when they first got married.

Had this been a normal commercial relationship and the misrepresentations had been about ordinary commercial matters, the conduct likely would have constituted actionable fraud (and perhaps even criminal fraud). But the court read the state statutes abolishing the breach of promise of marriage and similar causes of action broadly:

At this point the policy behind the anti-heart-balm statutes bears some elaboration. Plainly, these statutes not only preclude certain “old fashioned” causes of action, but also embody a basic reluctance on the part of both the Legislature and the judiciary to allow recovery for promises of love. This reluctance stems, no doubt, from the sheer unseemliness of litigating tender matters of romantic or sexual emotion in courts of law. Using the courts to distinguish “between a false statement of one's feelings and a change in those feelings” presents, in Judge Posner's phrase, “exquisitely difficult” problems of proof....

Words of love, passion and sexual desire are simply unsuited to the cumbersome strictures of common law fraud and deceit. The idea that a judge, or jury of 12 solid citizens, can arbitrate whether an individual's romantic declarations at a certain time are true or false, or made with intent to deceive, seems almost ridiculously wooden, particularly where the statements were made prior to marriage and the marriage lasted more than 13 years. “The judiciary should not attempt to regulate all aspects of the human condition. Relationships may take varied forms and beget complications and entanglements which defy reason.” Love has been known to last a lifetime, but it has also been known to be notoriously evanescent. These are matters better left to advice columnists than to judges and juries....

Seems quite right to me — and imagine what would happen if people could sue not just over "I love you" marriage fraud, but also "She told me I was only her second lover" marriage fraud, or similar forms of fraud as to nonmarital sexual relationships. Or (to return to the preceding post) imagine such behavior could be made into a crime, either on the theory that the lie led to a transfer of property in the marriage or the love affair, or that it led to the sex in the first place.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Getting Money or Sex by False Statements:
  2. Cheating on One's Lover = Future Felony in Massachusetts?