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Court Affirms Use of “Other Acts” Evidence in Rape Case

July 5, 2016

In Marlow v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for rape and false imprisonment and held that the trial court did not err in allowing the State to present evidence of another allegation of sexual assault involving the defendant.

The defendant was convicted of forcibly raping a young woman who was living with him at the time. The alleged victim was a recovering drug addict with three young children who agreed to move in with the defendant and work for his income tax preparation business.

At trial, the prosecution presented evidence that the defendant had previously sexually assaulted another young woman under similar circumstances. The alleged victim in that incident had also lived with the defendant and helped him with his business.

The defendant’s primary defense at trial was that the woman was not credible and was lying about the sexual assault.

Under Georgia law, “[i]n a criminal proceeding in which the accused is accused of an offense of sexual assault, evidence of the accused’s commission of another offense of sexual assault shall be admissible and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.” In determining relevance, the court must consider whether the evidence tends to prove or disprove a material fact. In all criminal cases, and in this case especially, the credibility of the witnesses is a material fact in issue at trial.

The defendant’s objection did not concern the admissibility of this evidence, but rather the judge’s instructions to the jury. He argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that this evidence could be used to “corroborate the victim’s testimony.” He contended that this instruction was not only erroneous, but that it constituted an impermissible comment on the evidence.

Citing case law from Georgia, as well as other jurisdictions, the Court noted that it has consistently been held that evidence of similar transactions, now referred to as evidence of other acts, may be used to corroborate the testimony of the victim. The trial court found that the prosecution’s evidence of this other alleged incident served to strengthen the victim’s credibility by highlighting that the defendant had allegedly exploited and assaulted another woman under similar circumstances. The Court of Appeals agreed with this finding.

As a result, the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for rape and false imprisonment.

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