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Boggs v. Collins

    Brief Fact Summary. Elizabeth Berman (Victim) accused Roger Boggs (Petitioner-Appellee) of sexually assaulting her one Christmas Eve. At trial, Petitioner-Appellee attempted to cross-examine Victim concerning prior accusations she made that allegedly turned out to be false, and was disallowed from doing so. Petitioner-Appellee, while incarcerated, sought a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted by the lower court, and Terry Collins (Respondent-Appellant), the Warden of the Warren Correctional Institute where Boggs was imprisoned, appeals here.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A defendant is not denied a right to a full and meaningful defense, as supplied by the United States Constitution’s Confrontation Clause, by being prohibited on cross-examination from inquiring into prior false accusations made by the alleged victim, when the evidence is offered to attack the alleged victim’s general credibility.

    Facts. Victim alleged that Petitioner-Appellee came to her home, asked to use her bathroom, and, after inside, repeatedly raped her and threatened her with violence.
    Victim was taken to the emergency room by her mother, who testified at trial that Victim alleged it was Petitioner-Appellee who had assaulted her. Victim was examined by a physician at the hospital, who testified at trial that Victim had several injuries that were, “consistent with the attack she had described . . . [despite not finding] any injuries to the vulva or the vagina.”
    Numerous other witnesses testified to seeing Petitioner-Appellee the night of the alleged rape, and all testified that Petitioner-Appellee appeared drunk, one testifying that Petitioner-Appellee stated that he, “had told them that he was so drunk that he would ‘not be surprised at anything.’”
    During trial, Petitioner-Appellee successfully inquired into Victim’s past drug use and mental illness, and Victim acknowledged that she had experienced delusions. When Petitioner-Appellee attempted to ask, during cross-examination of Victim, whether she had made a previous false accusation of rape, however, the court barred examination of the subject.

    Issue. Was it error for the lower court to disallow Petitioner-Appellee from inquiring into Victim’s past false allegations of rape through a cross-examination of Victim, and to further disallow Petitioner-Appellee to introduce testimony of two witnesses concerning Victim’s past false allegations?

    Held. No; the testimony would have been an attack on the witness’s general credibility and when offered for such a use, the admissibility of the evidence is not guaranteed by the Confrontation Clause.

    Discussion. The court cites past precedent and the, “vital role cross-examination can play in casting doubt on a witness’s credibility.” However, the court goes on to state, again citing past precedent, that, “not all conceivable methods of undermining credibility are constitutionally guaranteed.” Specifically, the court writes:

    No matter how central an accuser’s credibility is to a case–indeed, her credibility will almost always be the cornerstone of a rape or sexual assault case, even if there is physical evidence–the Constitution does not require that a defendant be given the opportunity to wage a general attack on credibility by pointing to individual instances of past conduct.

    As there is no absolute Constitutional right to impeach the general credibility of a witness, Petitioner-Appellee does not have a valid Confrontation Clause claim.


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