High Court Upholds 2013 Aggravated Rape Case

The appeal of a criminal case in which a man was convicted of raping a minor was recently upheld by the Virgin Islands Supreme Court.

The defendant in the case asked that his 2016 conviction be thrown out because of irregularities that occurred at trial.

But high court justices rejected the challenge in a ruling issued Feb. 6. Associate Justice Ive Swan wrote the opinion, saying the evidence weighing against defendant Charlesworth Gonsalves was enough to allow the conviction to stand.

The appeal was first heard by a three-judge panel in July 2017. Designated Justice Jomo Meade heard the case along with Swan and Chief Justice Rhys Hodge.

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Associate Justice Maria Cabret recused herself from the case.

The defendant filed an appeal two weeks after a jury found him guilty of second-degree aggravated rape, child abuse and domestic violence. He was charged in September 2013 for offenses committed against a 16-year-old minor identified by the initials D.G.

When the trial began, the defendant told the court his actions were only intended to show the minor the ways that boys take advantage of girls. Testimony at trial included descriptions of oral sex being performed on the minor victim.

Through his lawyer, Gonsalves cited two irregularities in his trial. One occurred during jury instructions, when a description of behavior connected to the rape charge was introduced after the first set of instructions was given. That, he said, violated his right to be notified prior to those changes being made.

The second irregularity was connected to the testimony of a witness who said she became involved with Gonsalves in an adult relationship.

In his opinion, Swan agreed that the lower court committed a reversible error by allowing the prosecution to pursue a line of questioning related to the victim’s age at the time the defendant and the witness became intimately involved.

Both Gonsalves and the witness knew the victim and had longstanding ties between them. Prosecutors said, and the jury agreed by their verdict that the defendants used his influence over the victim, arising from the relationship, to commit those crimes.

But Swan said some of the questions directed at that witness were not relevant and noted that the court curtailed the prosecutor’s questions.

The Feb. 6 ruling also declared the trial court did not commit an error by allowing an amendment to jury instructions on the rape charge.

In doing so, Swan cited the language of the V.I. Code, defining the acts that constitute rape and child abuse. Offenses presented in the original set of jury instructions, and not disputed by the defendant, were enough to let the charges stand, he said.

“Because the evidence of guilt was overwhelming and the improper testimony insignificant in the context of the whole trial, it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to deny the motion for a mistrial,” the opinion said.

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