Commonwealth v. Fischer
721 A.2d 1111 (1998)

  • Fischer and a girl went back to his dorm room and fooled around a bit. They then separated. A few hours later, they met again in his dorm room and fooled around some more.
    • There was conflicting testimony, but the girl claimed that the second encounter was non-consensual.
    • Fischer argued that based on the first encounter, he believed that the second encounter was consensual, even though the girl said ‘no’ to the second encounter.
  • The Trial Court convicted Fischer of rape. He appealed.
    • Fischer argued that relying on his previous encounter, and in light of his limited experience, his belief that he had the victim’s consent was reasonable.
      • Fischer argued that once he realized that she was serious, he stopped the encounter.
    • Basically, Fischer was arguing that he had made a mistake of fact. He argued that if the jury found that he reasonably, though mistakenly, believed that he had consent, he should be found innocent.
      • In his appeal, Fischer argued that he had ineffective counsel because his lawyer did not request a jury instruction about mistake of fact.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the prior case of Commonwealth v. Williams (439 A.2d 765 (1982)), which decided that mistake of fact with regards to the victim’s consent is not a defense. Therefore, via stare decisis, the appeal fails.
      • “If the element of the defendant’s belief as to the victim’s state of mind is to be established as a defense to the crime of rape then it should be done by the Legislature. We refuse to create such a defense.”
  • Basically, this case said that (in Pennsylvania anyway), mistake of fact about whether the victim consented is not a valid defense.
    • Other jurisdictions have allowed a mistake of fact defense, but only when the defendant’s error is “honest and reasonable.”