The Nevada Supreme Court reversed the sexual assault conviction of an former Las Vegas police explorer, saying in a decision handed down Thursday that a trial judge’s jury instructions were given in error.
Attorneys for Joshua Honea appealed his 2018 conviction and 25-year prison sentence, arguing in part that jurors were misinformed about legal consent.
Honea, now 27, spent about two years in jail while awaiting trial, but remained out of custody while awaiting a decision on the appeal of the jury’s decision and term of prison ordered by District Judge Kathleen Delaney.
Honea was in his late teens and early 20s during his relationship with the girl who was 11 when she met him and 15 when their relationship ended. The girl told investigators and testified during a preliminary hearing before trial that she had a sexual relationship with Honea for years. But she recanted her story at trial, when she was 18, and said the two were only friends.
“I look forward to going another round with (prosecutors) given the indiscretions and irregularities that were already presented in the first trial,” said Jonathan MacArthur, one of Honea’s defense attorneys. “I can’t wait to get another crack at that.”
Fellow defense attorney Monique McNeill agreed, saying “I don’t think it’s a winnable case” for prosecutors.
At the time of the allegations, Nevada law did not consider a victim’s age in determining whether sexual assault had occurred. The law has since changed, but Delaney had told jurors that consent by a child younger than 16 was not a defense to sexual assault of a minor.
“The victim’s age, alone, does not establish the victim’s ability to consent or the capacity to resist or understand the nature of the sexual conduct,” Justice Lidia Stiglich wrote in a unanimous three-judge decision with Justices James Hardesty and Abbi Silver.
Delaney had ordered Honea to serve 25 years to life in prison and register as a sex offender if he lost his appeal.
Honea was accused in 2015 of maintaining the four-year relationship with an underage girl.
MacArthur said he spoke with Honea about Thursday’s decision.
“While I’m frustrated that the Supreme Court didn’t dismiss entirely, he is delighted,” MacArthur said. “He thinks that this is a win. He’s looking forward to seeing what happens next. He has never lost any faith that he was going to be exonerated at trial.”
Justices disagreed that prosecutors had presented insufficient evidence to sustain Honea’s conviction “after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Stacey Kollins said that prosecutors would continue to pursue the case.
“The state understands the decision of the Nevada Supreme Court,” Kollins said. “But our ultimate goal is justice for our victim.”
Before his arrest, Honea was in a police Explorer Program that encourages a career in law enforcement and teaches young Las Vegans the basics of policing. He also volunteered with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Enterprise Area Command.