Brief Fact Summary. Mr. Sibley (Appellant) was convicted in the lower court of “defiling, debauching, and carnally knowing a victim, female under the age of 18 years”; the victim, Lula Hawkins (Victim) was the stepdaughter of Appellant. The lower court admitted various evidence, in the form of letters and testimony concerning Appellant’s character, which forms the basis for Appellant’s appeal.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Evidence of specific acts of sexual deviancy by a female with persons other than the accused defendant are inadmissible when offered for impeachment purposes.
Victim is the daughter of Appellant’s wife and lived with Appellant while a child; Victim testified that when she was between twelve and thirteen years old, Appellant had nonconsensual sexual contact with her. Victim also testified that her mother was aware of the actions of Appellant and did nothing to stop them. Victim eventually left home and moved to St. Louis.
During the trial, various items were admitted into evidence over the objections of Appellant and, as to the last item below, of Victim. The items admitted and at issue here were: Letters written by Appellant but dictated by Victim’s mother and sent to Victim and to Victim’s mother’s cousin; Victim’s testimony that she became pregnant by Appellant, and that Appellant gave her, “medicine” to cause her to have an abortion; Testimony of witnesses, who stated that Appellant’s character for chastity and virtue were bad; and Evidence of, “acts of illicit intercourse” of Victim with persons other than Appellant.
Did the trial court error in admitting the letters written by Victim’s mother and sent to Victim and Victim’s mother’s cousin?
Did the trial court error in admitting the testimony of Victim concerning her pregnancy and Appellant’s responsibility for it, and concerning the “medicine” Appellant allegedly gave to her to cause her to have an abortion?
Did the trial court error in admitting the evidence of Appellant’s character for chastity and virtue?
Did the trial court error in admitting the evidence of Victim’s past sexual history, including the alleged acts of “illicit intercourse?”
Held. Reversed and remanded.
Yes; although most of the letters were admissible due to Appellant doing the actual writing and being aware of their contents, the letter of May 21 was not related to Appellant, as the, “record does not disclose that . . . [Appellant] even knew that it had been written.” This error, however, was not prejudicial to Appellant and therefore does not justify reversal.
Yes; these statements made by Victim constitute inadmissible hearsay.
Yes; no inquiry into Appellant’s character was permissible because Appellant had not offered any evidence to sustain his own character.
Yes; evidence of Victim’s alleged unchastity, “were not permissible for the purpose of affecting her credibility or for impeaching her,” and therefore the lower court’s admission of the same constituted error.
Concurrence. Points of Law - for Law School Success
It is a matter of common knowledge that the bad character of a man for chastity does not even in the remotest degree affect his character for truth, when based upon that alone, while it does that of a woman. View Full Point of Law
“Brace, C. J., Macfarlane and Gantt, JJ., concur, except in the fourth paragraph of the opinion, with respect to the admission of evidence as to the character of defendant for chastity, from which they dissent. Barclay, J., concurs in the result. Sherwood, J., dissents from the first paragraph, and concurs in all others. Robinson, J., concurs.” Discussion.
As to the evidence of Appellant’s character for chastity and virtue, the court reasons that evidence of a general reputation for unchastity is inadmissible, “in any case for the purpose of impeaching the character of a male witness, and especially in a case like the one in hand, where the defendant’s character for chastity is directly involved.” The court goes so far as to state that:
It is a matter of common knowledge that the bad character of a man for chastity does not even in the remotest degree affect his character for truth, when based upon that alone, while it does that of a woman. It is no compliment to a woman to measure her character for truth by the same standard that you do that of man’s predicated upon character for chastity.
As to the evidence of Victim’s alleged illicit sexual past, the court reasons that, “whatever acts of lewdness she may have been guilty of with others, if any, were no justification or excuse for defendant in having carnal connection with her, if in fact he did have, while she was under his care, control and protection.” The prejudicial effect, therefore, that admission of such evidence would likely have, renders the evidence inadmissible.