As the investigation progressed, we quickly learned the client and alleged victim were in a romantic relationship. The client had approached the girl's parents and asked permission to see her. The parents were also Mexican nationals who had come to the United States many years ago looking for a better life. Their cultural background based in rural Mexico influenced their world-view. They were happy to allow their 12 year old daughter to see my 19 year old client.
From my perspective (as a white American born male) the age difference between the client and his girlfriend seem too unreasonable. However, I started to research the cultural norms in Mexico regarding dating and marriage. Surprisingly, I found that in rural Mexico young men of my client's age, and young girls hardly teenagers, regularly began to date and marry.
Clearly, my client's world-view, and that of the girl, were shaped by Mexican cultural influences. My client was not a sexual predator as the prosecutor tried to depict him. Rather, he was young man isolated by language barriers, economic barriers, and cultural barriers who fell for a young girl . . . not unlike relationships developing everyday in rural Mexico. We hired a cultural expert who helped the jury understand the motivation behind the client's behavior. Although we were unsuccessful in persuading the jury to acquit on the sexual assault charge, we were successful in convincing them that probation was the appropriate punishment result. Rather than the 15 years hard time the prosecutor asked for, the client received 10 years probation.
In future posts I'd like to explore the issues of cultural defenses in more detail. Cultural influences shape the way individuals perceive reality and thus guide their decisions. Judges and juries must be educated in this regard to assure the American justice system works fairly and equitably when persons from different cultures allegedly commit crimes in the United States.