Rapist Given Paternity Rights to Victim's Child
H.T., of Norwood, Mass., sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Federal Court.
"The plaintiff, a rape victim in a state criminal matter, became pregnant in 2009 at age 14 as a result of the crime and gave birth to her attacker's child," the lawsuit states.
"The defendant in the state criminal proceeding, age 20 at the time of the impregnation, was convicted of rape in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation. Conditions of probation include an order that he initiate proceedings in family court and comply with that court's orders until the child reaches adulthood. The plaintiff here seeks to enjoin enforcement of so much of the state court's order as violates her federal rights by binding her to an unwanted 16-year legal relationship with her rapist."
H.T., who recently graduated from high school, says the order forces her to participate in unwanted court proceedings for 16 years with the man who raped her, and to spend money on legal fees.
"The plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm without relief from this court because she cannot choose not to participate in said family court proceedings without risking serious consequences, including the loss of custody of her child," the complaint states.
"Even if the family court ruled in the plaintiff's favor on issues currently in dispute, such as whether the criminal defendant should be granted visitation rights to the plaintiff's child, the plaintiff will suffer harm from the constant threat of new issues arising in family court until her child reaches adulthood, including, for example, efforts by the criminal defendant to seek to modify child support orders and enforce his parental rights at the trial court level and on appeal."
H.T. was 14 when 20-year-old Jamie Melendez raped her in the fall of 2009, making her pregnant, according to the complaint.
H.T. says she lived with her mother, who had to quit her job to care for the baby.
"The plaintiff and her mother repeatedly informed state officials that they wanted no contact with Melendez for any purpose and that they did not want the child born of the crime to have a relationship with Melendez," the complaint states.
"Melendez pleaded guilty to rape in September, 2011 (Norfolk Criminal Docket No . CR200900499) and was sentenced to probation for 16 years. As a condition of probation, Melendez was ordered to initiate proceedings in family court, declare paternity as to the child born of his crime, (paternity had already been determined in the criminal case, via DNA testing), and comply with the family court's orders throughout the probationary period. The plaintiff and her mother were adamantly opposed to participation in family court proceedings and repeatedly expressed this sentiment to state officials." (Parentheses in complaint).
In June 2012, H.T. found out that Melendez was seeking visitation rights with the child.
After a family court judge ordered Melendez to pay $110 a week in child support, Melendez asked for visitation rights, and offered to withdraw his request in exchange for not having to pay child support, according to the lawsuit.
"Melendez had no prior contact with the child and had expressed no interest in the child, but no Massachusetts law forbids the enforcement of visitation rights by a biological father who causes a child's birth through the crime of rape," the complaint states.
The sentencing judge in the state criminal court denied H.T.'s request to order Melendez to pay criminal restitution instead of child support, and release her from any legal proceedings involving him.
H.T. asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to review the decision, but the single justice of the court found that she lacked standing to challenge the order. The justice agreed with the state court that H.T. could appeal any adverse rulings in family court.
H.T. appealed the ruling, but the full court affirmed the single justice's decision in June, according to the complaint.
H.T. says she never asserted an interest in the prosecution of Melendez. On the contrary, she seeks to be released from having any authority over his probationary conditions, according to the complaint.
"Through this action, the plaintiff requests that she be liberated from a state court order that not only imposes unlawfully on her liberty for 16 years, but also obligates her with the unwanted and inappropriate responsibility for ensuring Melendez's compliance with the conditions of his probation; an obligation that should rest exclusively with state officials," the complaint states.
H.T. claims the order subjects her to an unwanted legal relationship with her attacker, and violates due process and other constitutional rights.
"An estimated 35,000 babies are born from rape every year," the complaint states. "No state court has ever issued an order such as the one at issue here. Granting the plaintiff's requested relief will inhibit state court judges in Massachusetts and elsewhere from similarly depriving rape victims of their liberty, personal autonomy and due process."
H.T. seeks an injunction and annulment of the order.
She is represented by Wendy Murphy, co-director of New England Law School's Women's and Children's Advocacy Project.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the state had not yet reviewed the filing.