In Atkins v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a statutory rape accuser’s prior statements cannot supply the corroboration needed to sustain a conviction under the statute – which provides that the unsupported testimony of the victim is insufficient to sustain a conviction for statutory rape.
In this case that was previously decided by the Court of Appeals (see our previous post, Court of Appeals Highlights Problems with Rape Shield Statute), a mother discovered that her 13-year-old daughter was pregnant. Upon questioning, the girl first claimed that a boy in the neighborhood was the father.
Soon after, the girl called the defendant and told him that she planned to claim that he was the father. The mother then reported the incident to the police and charges were brought against him. In her initial interview with the police, the girl reported two alleged incidents with the defendant. As a result, the defendant was arrested for the offenses of statutory rape and aggravated child molestation.
The girl then had an abortion and a search warrant for the DNA of the fetus was executed. The DNA testing showed that the defendant was not the father. Despite this, the State proceeded with the case against him. At trial, the judge denied the defendant’s request to introduce evidence of the identity of the father. The only evidence introduced by the State was the girl’s testimony, testimony from other people relaying the girl’s prior statements implicating the defendant, and testimony from witnesses that the girl occasionally spent time at the defendant’s house.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the State had not presented sufficient evidence to satisfy the corroboration requirement for statutory rape. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-3 (a) provides that no conviction for statutory rape may be had “on the unsupported testimony of the victim.”
The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed his conviction, finding that the girl’s prior statements to others could serve as the corroboration required under the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that while the amount of corroborating evidence can be slight, it must be independent of the victim’s prior statements. As a result, the defendant’s conviction for statutory rape was overturned.
The Court also addressed the rape shield issue that was covered in our previous post. Fortunately, the Court did point out that under prior case law, the rape shield statute cannot be used to exclude evidence that may establish either (1) a motive for the alleged victim to make a false allegation, or (2) an alternative explanation to the findings in a medical exam.
However, the Court concluded that in this case excluding the evidence of the identity of the father did not harm the defendant since he was still permitted to show at trial that the girl was impregnated by someone else and was able to question her about why she accused this other person and any motives she may have had to change her story.