Ithaca, N.Y. — The defense that Peter Mesko was too drunk to have committed rape is unlikely to sway a jury, according to professor Charles Ewing of SUNY Buffalo Law School.
Mesko, a former Cornell wrestler, was arrested on a charge of first-degree rape in April 2013. In a document submitted to the Tompkins County Court, his lawyer said Mesko’s intoxication made him unable to form the requisite intent to find him guilty of rape.
The intoxication defense is predominantly raised in cases of assault, attempted murder, or intoxication, Ewing said.
“It’s a very tough sell in cases like that,” Ewing said of the rape case.
“Jurors are naturally skeptical of voluntary intoxication defenses. People get drunk all the time, and there’s a fear if you allow drunkenness to be considered a defense, it would be abused as a defense.”
The defense may not land Mesko a not guilty verdict. However, it is possible that it will drastically reduce his sentence if he’s found guilty, said Louis Schlesinger, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“He’s not going to go home,” Schlesinger said, “[but] instead of 25 years in prison, he could get 10.”
In rape cases in particular, allowing intoxication to be a defense could have serious consequences, Ewing said.
“Many alleged rapes occur while one or both the complaint or defendant was intoxicated,” Ewing said.
“If intoxication were to be generally accepted as a defense to rape, that would really make it extraordinarily difficult to convict rape defendants.”
On March 30, 2013, the victim reported being raped in her sleep by Mesko while staying in her girlfriend’s home. The victim and her girlfriend were able to take a photo of Mesko and identify him through Cornell’s online wrestling roster, the Cornell Sun reported.
Four days later, Mesko was arrested and charged with rape in the first degree, burglary in the second degree and sexual abuse in the first degree. Mesko has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He and his attorney have not spoken about the case.
For the upcoming trial, “psychiatric and lay evidence is to be presented in relationship to defendant’s mental disorder by intoxication, to show the lack of specific intent to commit the crimes alleged,” according to the documents submitted by Mesko’s lawyer.
Alcohol should not play a factor into whether or not Mesko is found guilty, said Tiffany Greco, education director at the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County.
“Intoxicated or not, people are still accountable for their actions,” Greco said.
“If a person was drunk, are they not accountable for killing someone in a drunk driving accident?”
Mesko was released on $5,000 bail around April 2, 2013. The trial date has not yet been set.