Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Prior Accusations Inadmissible Under ‘Rape Shield’ Law—C.A.
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
California law establishing a procedure for a defendant charged with rape to introduce evidence of the victim’s prior sexual conduct does not apply to evidence that the victim made previous, unproven claims of rape, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Upholding Juan Michael Tidwell’s convictions for kidnapping and raping a 21-year-old deaf Sacramento woman in September of 2005, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to admit evidence of the woman’s claims that she had been raped on two previous occasions —which Tidwell alleged falsely stated the encounters were nonconsensual—because the claims themselves were not “sexual conduct.”
The woman—who communicated by sign language, reading lips, writing notes and text messaging—had been walking towards a light rail station on her way to work at 9:30 p.m. when Tidwell approached her and, after borrowing her cell phone to make a call, accompanied her to the station. The two communicated along the way by writing notes in a notebook.
Tidwell claimed they later engaged in consensual sex at the station, but the woman said that Tidwell—after she rebuffed his advances—directed her to a dark area in the station’s parking lot in a note in which he claimed to have a gun, and then raped her after robbing her of $20 at knifepoint.
The woman said that the pair returned to the station afterward, but the trains had stopped running for the night, so she accepted a ride to work from Tidwell so he would not know where she lived.
Other employees contacted police upon the woman’s arrival at work, and the woman gave officers the notes she had exchanged with Tidwell. A subsequent rape examination was consistent with her claims.
At trial, Tidwell moved under Evidence Code Sec. 782 , commonly known as the “rape shield” law, to admit evidence of two prior rape claims the woman had made five years earlier that he alleged were false.
The statute provides a procedure by which a defendant may attempt to attack the credibility of a complaining witness by introducing evidence of that witness’s “sexual conduct.” In order to do so, the defendant must file an affidavit with an offer of proof, after which the trial court may be required to hold a hearing out of the jury’s presence to allow questioning of the witness.
The woman had claimed in February of 2003 that she had been blindfolded, kidnapped and raped by an unknown individual, but medical evidence was not conclusive, and a friend of the woman later told police that the woman had admitted on the day after the incident that a 20-year-old friend of her boyfriend had “touched” her the previous day.
Seven months after the first claim, the woman also alleged that a fellow student from the California School for the Deaf in Fremont had raped her in a public restroom. However the student claimed the encounter was consensual, and was not prosecuted.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard agreed to hold a hearing out of the jury’s presence for Tidwell to establish the falsity of the woman’s prior complaints.
However, when the fellow student asserted his right to remain silent and the first alleged assailant remained unidentified, Gilliard ruled that the evidence was inadmissible under Sec. 352—which prohibits admission of evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a probability its admission will unduly consume time or create a substantial danger of prejudice or confusion—given the weakness of the evidence suggesting the claims were false, and the prosecution’s intention to call a witness who would testify that the student had committed a similar rape around the same time.
Affirming the trial court, Justice George Nicholson wrote for the Court of Appeal that the procedure established by Sec. 782 was “inapplicable because it was [the woman’s] allegedly false complaints that the defense sought to use as impeachment evidence, not her prior sexual conduct or willingness to engage in sexual activity.”
Under the circumstances, Nicholson said, the statute did not apply, and Tidwell’s assertion that the trial court was required to allow him to question the woman in order to determine whether she would recant the earlier claims failed.
Nicholson similarly concluded that Gilliard had not abused her discretion in excluding the evidence under Sec. 352, noting the “weak” nature of evidence that the woman’s prior claims were false, and that litigating the truthfulness of the prior claims would have confused the jury and required “an undue consumption of time.”
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Nicholson rejected Tidwell’s separate challenges of instructional error, ineffective assistance of counsel and sentencing error.
Justices Richard Sims III and Tani Cantil-Sakauye joined Nicholson in his opinion.
The case is People v. Tidwell, 08 S.O.S. 3536.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company