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Court of Appeals: Alleged Victim’s Prior False Allegation is Admissible

May 29, 2018

In Burns v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in granting the State's motion to exclude evidence that the alleged victim had previously made a false accusation of sexual abuse against someone other than the defendant.

The defendant was accused of molesting his stepdaughter. He was specifically charged with aggravated sexual battery, aggravated sodomy, and incest. The case arose from a Twitter message sent by the stepdaughter to her friend that stated that she and the defendant had a sexual encounter several months earlier. At the end of the message, she stated, “And my brother’s best friend tried to rape me.” When the police interviewed her and asked her about this statement regarding the brother’s friend, she stated, “Oh, I just made that up.”

The State filed a motion in limine claiming that the rape shield statute precluded the defense from mentioning this allegation concerning the brother’s friend. The defense argued that the evidence was admissible as a prior false allegation that was relevant to impeach the alleged victim’s credibility. The trial court held that even if the rape shield statute is not applicable, the probative value of this statement is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues and is therefore inadmissible under O.C.G.A. § 24-4-403.

On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals noted at the outset that it was clear that the rape shield statute did not apply. The only remaining issue was whether the trial court erred in ruling that the evidence was inadmissible under 24-4-403. The Court noted that the Georgia Supreme Court has held that this statute should be used sparingly and that evidentiary rules prohibiting evidence of specific acts of untruthfulness “must yield to the defendant’s right of confrontation and right to present a full defense.”

The Court pointed out that the Georgia Supreme Court has reversed child molestation convictions on several occasions due to the erroneous exclusion of prior false allegations made by the alleged victim. As a result, the trial court’s ruling was reversed and the case was remanded for trial where the defendant will be permitted to introduce this evidence.

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