Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Copulation Definition:

Sexual intercourse.

Related Terms: Sexual Intercourse

The Attorney's Dictionary of Medicine proposesd this definition of copulation:

"The introduction of the male sex organ into the female sex canal, followed by a discharge of semen; sexual intercourse."

In People v Angier, Hervey Angier was convicted of sexual abuse upon two young girls, ages 5 and 7. As these acts did not then and still do not today, unfortunately, at least in most jurisdictions, carry the death penalty, Angier was sent to San Quentin Prison.

The California Penal Code, circa July 1940 (§288a), required proof of copulation for the offence under which the pedophile was convicted. Thus, Justice Moore of the California appeal court had to wrestle with this requirement against the evidence from the little girls that Angier had performed some variation of oral sex but not sexual intercourse. It was, as Justice Moore characterized it, an "act of sexual perversion" but was it copulation?

The appeal was allowed because what transpired was not copulation. Justice Moore:

"Copulation ... has never had the meaning of mere contact.... [T]he word copulate has an unvarying significance, to wit, the act of gratifying sexual desire by the union of the sexual organs of two biological entitites."

People v Angier marks the halls of justice in one other significant. As unworthy Angier may have been for his case to be embellished by these words, Justice Moore did close his opinion with words the wisdom which have their place in the heart of any hall of justice:

"That appellant might have been guilty of some reprehensible behavior not named in the accusation, which we do not affirm, is no justification for this conviction. Trials of adults upon charges of sex perversion and kindred crimes growing out of the relations of the accused to little children require the utmost vigilance upon the part of courts at every stage of the consideration of such causes. No charge is more easily made and none is with more difficulty disproved.

"As a matter of practical observation to many judges who have presided over trials of this nature, it is plainly recognized that, notwithstanding the salutary rule that an accused is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, nevertheless, to the mind of the average citizen or juror, the mere fact that a person has been accused of the commission of such an offense seems to constitute sufficient evidence to warrant a verdict of guilty; and that--instead of its being necessary for the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt--in order to secure an acquittal of the charge it becomes incumbent upon the accused to completely establish his innocence, and to accomplish that result not only by a preponderance of the evidence but beyond a reasonable doubt."


  • People v Angier, 44 C.A. (2d) 417 (1941)
  • Schmidt, J. E., Attorney's Dictionary of Medicine (Newark, NJ: LexisNexis, 2001),

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!