At issue during the trial was the fact that under Arizona law, the definition of “sexual contact” applicable to the charges brought against Holle was “any direct or indirect touching, fondling or manipulating of any part of the genitals, anus or female breast by any part of the body or by any object or causing a person to engage in such contact.” That definition does not require any sexual intent, but Arizona law also specifies that for the charges brought against Holle, “it is a defense to a prosecution that the defendant was not motivated by a sexual interest.” Before trial, Holle asked the court to instruct the jury that in order for them to find him guilty, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a sexual motivation behind his actions and not require him to prove a lack of sexual motivation.
The trial court disagreed with Holle, and the jury found him guilty of child molestation and sexual abuse of a minor.
Simply being accused of such a crime is sufficient to irreparably tarnish one’s reputation, and acquittal after a lengthy and expensive trial is more likely to reinforce the stigma than erase it.
And as noted at Mimesis Law‘s Fault Lines series, having to rely on prosecutors not to abuse technicalities in the law is a rather tenuous form of protection from government misconduct: It’s obvious the justices of the court aren’t a group with a lot of criminal defense experience.
Holle was sentenced to a ten-year prison term for molestation and a five-year term of probation for sexual abuse.
Holle successfully appealed his conviction, arguing that if proof of sexual motivation was not required for charges of child molestation and sexual abuse, “it would mean that parents and other caregivers commit those crimes whenever they change an infant’s diaper and bathe or otherwise clean a child’s genitals,” and “pediatricians and other medical providers would likewise violate those laws.” However, the Arizona Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s decision, holding that Holle’s alleged lack of sexual motivation was an affirmative defense under that statute, requiring him to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was not motivated by a sexual interest.
Because I also agree with the court of appeals that the erroneous instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, I concur in the affirmance of Holle’s convictions and sentences.