It is upsetting to think that sometimes people are falsely accused of committing a crime. Unfortunately, false accusations do happen and sometimes criminal charges are filed against innocent people. In our experience, the most common type of case in which false accusations are made are sex offense cases. As a result, these cases routinely go to trial. The laws and rules of evidence governing what can and cannot be brought up at trial in sex offense cases are extensive. However, there are a few important rules that every attorney should know.
Indiana Rule of Evidence 412, more commonly known as the Rape Shield Rule, states that the following evidence is NOT admissible in a civil or criminal proceeding involving alleged sexual misconduct:
- Evidence offered to prove that a victim or witness engaged in other sexual behavior; or
- Evidence offered to prove a victim’s or witness’s sexual predisposition.
Understandably, defense attorneys are not permitted to bring up an alleged victim’s sexual past as a means to disparage the alleged victim’s character. However, Rule 412 carves out three exceptions for this type of evidence to come in as evidence during a criminal case. Specifically:
- Evidence of specific instances of a victim’s or witness’s sexual behavior, if offered to prove that someone other than the defendant was the source of semen, injury, or other physical evidence;
- Evidence of specific instances of a victim’s or witness’s sexual behavior with respect to the person accused of the sexual misconduct, if offered by the defendant to prove consent; and
- Evidence whose exclusion would violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.
As referenced in the final exception to Rule 412, judges are encouraged keep in mind the defendant’s 6th Amendment right of confrontation. This right requires that the defendant be afforded an opportunity to conduct effective cross examination of opposing witnesses in order to test their believability. Clearly, if the defense is that the alleged victim’s allegations are false, being able to conduct an in depth and effective cross examination is direly important.
So what happens if the alleged victim has made false allegations about sex offenses in the past? The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that evidence of prior false accusations of sex offenses may be admissible, and are not subject to Indiana Rule 412, since mere accusations are not “prior sexual conduct.” In presenting this evidence, the defense is not probing the alleged victim’s sexual history. Instead, the defense is attempting to attack the alleged victim’s credibility by exposing the previously made false accusations.
In order to introduce evidence of prior false accusations of rape, the defense must establish either that (1) the complaining witness has admitted that they made a prior false accusation of rape; or (2) that the prior accusation is demonstrably false. To demonstrate, In State v. Walton, the alleged victim accused the defendant of rape. However, defense presented two witnesses that testified the alleged victim had claimed she was previously raped on two separate occasions by two different individuals. The alleged victim, on the witness stand, denied that the two prior rapes had occurred, and also denied having ever made the accusations. The trial court ruled that the evidence of the prior accusations were admissible because the prior accusations were demonstrably false. State v. Walton, 715 N.E.2d 824, 825 (Ind. 1999). The defendant was acquitted, and the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of the prior false accusations.
As you can see, many sex offense cases hinge on the credibility of witnesses. It is absolutely necessary to have an experienced defense attorney to represent you. If you or someone you know is facing a sex offense where the allegations are false, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC. We are available at all times by calling us at (317) 870-0019, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.