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Lewis v. Wilkinson

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Nathaniel Lewis (Defendant) and the victim, Christina Heaslet (the Victim), engaged in sexual intercourse that the Defendant claims was consensual and the victim claims was not consensual. Prior to trial, the Defendant gained access to certain diary pages of the victim that could have undermined the victim’s credibility.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. While rape shield laws prevent an accused from introducing evidence of the victim’s past sexual history or reputation, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) requires that the defendant be able to cross-examine the victim on these issues if they tend to prove ulterior motives or that the victim consented.

    Facts. The Defendant and the victim became acquainted as college students at the University of Akron. On the night in question, the victim invited the Defendant to her dormitory room. After he arrived, they watched television and spoke with another student, Keryn Mayback (Mayback). After Mayback left, the Defendant and the victim were alone in the victim’s dorm room. At some point, the Defendant got up and turned off the lights in the room. The Defendant and the victim then had sexual intercourse. According to the victim, she did not consent and the Defendant forcibly had sex with her. The Defendant claims that the whole encounter was completely consensual. Prior to trial, the Defendant received, via mail, copies of several pages of the victim’s diary. In said diary, the victim had written, “I can’t believe the trial’s only a week away. I feel guilty (sort of) for trying to get Nate locked up, but his lack of respect for women is terrible. I remember how disrespectful he always was t
    o all of us girls in the courtyard . . . he thinks females are a bunch of sex objects! And he’s such a player! He was trying to get with Holly and me, and all the while he had a girlfriend. I think I pounced on Nate because he was the last straw. That, and because I’ve always seemed to need some drama in my life. Otherwise I get bored. That definitely needs to change. I’m sick of men taking advantage of me . . . and I’m sick of myself for giving in to them. I’m not a nympho like all those guys think. I’m just not strong enough to say no to them. I’m tired of being a whore. This is where it ends.” Citing the rape shield law, the trial court substantially precluded the introduction of certain language from the pages. A jury convicted the Defendant of rape.

    Issue. Is the challenged evidence’s exclusion under the rape shield law permissible under the Sixth Amendment’s right to confrontation of adverse witness?

    Held. No. Rape shield laws are constitutional, but an accused must be allowed to fully cross-examine the witnesses testifying against him. Therefore, while rape shield laws generally preclude the introduction of evidence of the victim’s sexual history or reputation, an accused may question the victim regarding these topics if the testimony would be probative of an ulterior motive or that the victim consented to the sexual intercourse. Here, the victim’s written statements in her diary could reasonably be used to attack her credibility and form a basis to question her ulterior motives and whether she consented.

    Discussion. Rape shield laws serve the purpose of not subjecting the victim to the embarrassment of having her sexual history recounted in court, but a victim cannot hide exculpatory or credibility evidence from the court by invoking the rape shield law.


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