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Reference to Duke Lacrosse Case in Defense’s Closing is Permissible

September 2, 2014

In Johnson v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction for rape and aggravated assault. The Court, however, held that the trial court erred in prohibiting the defense from discussing and comparing the Duke Lacrosse case during closing arguments.

During closing, Johnson’s defense attorney argued that there had been “numerous famous instances of false cries of rape. We don’t have to look back many years ago to remember when the Duke Lacrosse players were all charged with rape.” The State objected and contended that “the law restricts attorneys, in arguments, from talking about the facts of specific famous cases, and that’s where we were going.” The trial court sustained the objection.

The Court of Appeals noted that counsel is, in fact, permitted to analogize a defendant’s case with a well-known case if the analogy is supported by the facts in evidence. Since Johnson’s defense was that the sex was consensual and the rape charges were fabricated, the Court held that the analogy to a case involving false rape allegations was certainly permissible. Therefore, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in prohibiting this type of argument during the defense’s closing.

The Court held that despite the trial court’s error, the evidence in the case—which included DNA evidence, the victim’s testimony and immediate outcry, the scratches on her neck and Johnson’s inconsistent accounts of the incident—was overwhelming and thus rendered the error harmless.

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