Defendant Says He’d Never Rape Someone; Is Rape Accusation from When He Was 15 Admissible in Response?
Justice Dirk Sandefur’s majority opinion (jointed by Justices Laurie McKinnon, Beth Baker, and Ingrid Gustafson) in State v. Pelletier, decided Oct. 6 but just posted on Westlaw, involved a classic he-said/she-said dispute in a rape case. Both the defendant and the alleged victim agreed that they had sex, but disagreed about consent. In the process, defendant claimed that he wasn’t the kind of man who would have sex with a woman without her consent:
At trial, Pelletier testified … that M.V. was fully conscious throughout their sexual encounter and that it was completely consensual. Upon acknowledging to defense counsel that some of the details he gave to police in his post-arrest interrogation were not entirely accurate or consistent with his trial testimony, Pelletier explained: “I think—because of being surrounded at my house unexpectedly by the U.S. Marshals, … I know it was because of being slandered and charged with this charge because it’s … one of the worst things that a man can get charged with. And I’m just not that kind of guy. I would never do that to a female. So it was kind of … disturbing.”
On the record outside the presence of the jury, the State subsequently stated its intent to cross-examine Pelletier regarding the fact that a 14-year-old female acquaintance alleged to police in 2003 that the 15-year-old Pelletier subjected her to sexual intercourse without consent. The SIWC [sexual intercourse without consent] allegedly occurred after the two had engaged in consensual sexual foreplay and Pelletier ignored her command to go no further.
The State asserted that the mere fact of the 2003 allegation was relevant to rebut his testimony on direct that he was not the kind of person who would engage in non-consensual sexual intercourse and “would never do that to a female.” The State reasoned: “He put his character at issue and said that he was not the kind of person that would engage in this kind of offense. It is basically the whole defense. So it’s absolutely probative of the issue.”
Over Pelletier’s relevance and prejudice objections, the District Court ruled his testimony that he was “not that kind of guy” and “would never do that to a female” put his good character at issue, thereby opening the door under M. R. Evid. 404(a)(1) to cross-examination regarding the 2003 allegation for the purpose of rebutting his good character testimony….
The majority concluded this evidence shouldn’t have been admitted. The evidence here was “character evidence”—”[e]vidence regarding [a] [person]’s general personality traits or propensities, [whether] of a praiseworthy or blameworthy nature; evidence of a person’s moral standing in a community.” Such evidence is generally inadmissible “for the purpose of proving that the person acted in ‘conform[ance] therewith on a particular occasion,'” but is admissible when a defendant claims “a pertinent good character trait inconsistent with the alleged offense.” “However, by doing so, the defendant thereby ‘opens the door’ for the State to present otherwise inadmissible cross-examination or extrinsic evidence regarding specific instances of prior conduct relevant to impeach or rebut the subject
Article from Latest – Reason.com