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Court Affirms Molestation Convictions Despite Questionable Rape Shield Ruling

September 6, 2019

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant's convictions for rape, statutory rape, and child molestation, holding that evidence that the accuser was hanging out with a boy/friend of hers just after the alleged rape was properly excluded by the trial court under the Rape Shield Statute.

In State v. Nguyen, the defendant was accused of molesting and raping a 12-year-old girl. Prior to trial, the State filed a motion seeking to exclude evidence of a text message that the girl sent shortly after the alleged sexual assault to a boy asking him if he wanted to come over to her house “to chill.” The State argued that Georgia’s Rape Shield Statute prohibited the defense from questioning the girl about the text as it constituted “past sexual behavior.”

The defense contended that the evidence was admissible and relevant to show that her act of “inviting friends over to come chill with her” is not consistent with her claim that she had just been violently raped. The trial court granted the State’s motion as to the specific content of the text message, finding that the language used in the message could potentially raise improper “innuendo.”

On appeal, the defense claimed that the evidence had nothing to do with the girl’s past sexual behavior but, instead, was evidence that refuted her claim that she was raped and molested by the defendant. The Court of Appeals held that regardless of whether this conduct fell within the scope of the Rape Shield Statute, the trial court’s ruling would not require reversal of the defendant’s convictions.

The Court noted that while the trial court excluded any references to the specific content of the text, the defendant was still permitted to show that the girl had texted her friends after the alleged incident. The trial court also permitted the defendant to establish that the girl had invited a friend over to her house but prohibited him from inquiring as to whether this friend was a boy or a girl.

The boy was later called as a witness by the defense and he testified that the girl told him about the rape via Facebook Messenger. However, he stated that he did not take the allegation seriously, that he was of the opinion that she was a person of untruthful character, and that he would not believe the girl even if she was testifying under oath. Another friend testified that she received a text message from the girl in which she generally described an encounter with the defendant, but she did not mention any sexual activity, and at one point in the conversation she typed “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha” and “Lololol.” This other friend testified that the girl did not appear to be upset about this alleged sexual assault and that she was not known for “telling the truth all the time.”

The Court of Appeals noted that despite the trial court’s ruling, the defendant was able to successfully raise questions about the girl’s conduct following the alleged incident, as well as her reputation for being a person of untruthful character. Therefore, the Court held that even if the trial court’s ruling was erroneous, there was no evidence that the ruling affected the outcome of the trial.

As a result, the defendant’s convictions for rape, statutory rape, and child molestation were affirmed.

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