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State v. DeLawder

    Brief Fact Summary. DeLawder (D) was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for having sexual relations with a female under the age of 14. At trial, testimony of the girl’s prior sexual history was excluded. After judgment was affirmed on direct appeal, D sought post-conviction relief based on the argument that his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment had been violated.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An accused person’s Constitutional right to confront a witness and seek out the truth takes weight over the claimant’s desirability to testify free from embarrassment and preservation of her reputation.

    Facts. D was convicted by a jury for having sexual relations with a female under the age of 14. D’s planned defense strategy was to discredit the female by proving that at the time of the alleged relations, the girl thought she had been impregnated by another man and, because she was afraid to tell her mother, she claimed that D raped her. At trial, however, the judge sustained objections made to questions relating to the girl’s sexual history. D was sentenced to 15 years in prison and the conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. D seeks post-conviction relief based on the argument that his right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment had been violated.

    Issue. Were D’s rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment violated when he was prevented from exposing the jury to evidence relating to the claimant’s prior sexual history?

    Held. Yes.
    D was denied effective cross examination by being prevented from exposing the jurors to facts from which they could draw inferences regarding the witness’s reliability. The court rested its opinion on the Supreme Court’s recognition in Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308 (1974), that “the exposure of a witness’s motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination”.

    The general rule is that because consent is not an issue in a “carnal knowledge” (statutory rape) case, the prosecutrix’s prior sexual history is immaterial with when offered as a defense. However, where the evidence is offered with regard to a witness’s reliability, an accused person’s Constitutional right to confront a witness and seek out the truth takes weight over the claimant’s desirability to testify free from embarrassment and preservation of her reputation.


    Discussion. This case essentially holds that rape shield statutes that bar the use of relevant sexual history evidence are unconstitutional. A number of courts agree. It also exposes one of the difficulties inherent in balancing probative value and prejudicial effect of an alleged victim’s prior sexual history.


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