Court of Appeals reiterates that a threshold finding of falsity is still required for admission of an alleged victim's prior allegation of abuse.
In Gallegos-Munoz v. State, the Court of Appeals held that a defendant is still required to make a threshold showing of falsity prior to the trial court’s determination as to whether an alleged victim’s prior allegation of abuse can be admitted at trial.
The defendant was charged with the offenses of rape and child molestation as a result of allegations made by his girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter. Prior to trial, he filed a motion to introduce evidence that the girl had previously made a false allegation that she was molested by her biological father.
At the hearing on the defendant’s motion, the girl’s mother testified that her daughter made this allegation to her and a police report was made. The mother testified that the police declined to prosecute the father and told the mother that they “could not continue with the case because if the case was before a judge he would just throw out the case because there was not enough proof.”
The judge then asked her whether her daughter had ever recanted the allegation and she said “no.” However, the mother testified that the next time she asked her daughter whether the allegation was true, the daughter did not respond.
The evidence showed that the biological father denied the allegation. The officers in that case testified and both of them claimed that the reason it was not pursued further was because the mother did not want to prosecute. As a result, the girl was never interviewed and the case was closed and labelled “unfounded.”
The trial court denied the motion and ruled that there was not a reasonable probability that the prior allegation was false. The court found that the mother’s testimony was not credible and instead found the officers’ explanation as to why the case was not prosecuted to be reasonable.
The defendant was convicted at trial and he appealed the trial court’s ruling.
On appeal, the defense argued that in light of the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Burns, the trial court was not required to make an initial determination that the prior allegation was likely false. Rather, it contended that the inquiry was solely whether under Rule 403 the probative value of the evidence outweighed any potential for unfair prejudice.
In Burns, the Supreme Court overruled its prior decision in Smith v. State finding that it incorrectly created a per se rule that an accuser’s prior false allegation was admissible where its falsity was sufficiently established regardless of its potential prejudicial effect.
The Burns Court held that the admissibility of an accuser’s prior allegation must be subject to the Rule 403 analysis and could be excluded if the trial court found that its probative value was outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. The Supreme Court, however, did not address whether the threshold determination of falsity was still required. This was probably because the accuser in Burns admitted that her prior allegation was false.
The Court of Appeals noted that it held in Vallejo v. State, that the Burns decision did nothing to remove the requirement that the defense first show a reasonable probability of falsity as a condition to admissibility. The Burns decision just added another factor for admissibility of prior false allegations by subjecting them to the same Rule 403 balancing test as all other evidence.
Therefore, the Court held that in order to admit an accuser’s prior false allegation at trial, the trial court must still make a finding that there is a reasonable probability that the prior allegation was false. As such, the Court concluded that the trial court here applied the correct legal standard in excluding the girl’s prior allegation against her father.
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