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State v. Smith

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Brief Fact Summary. Eual Howard Smith, Jr. (Appellant) was convicted of attempted indecent behavior with a juvenile, and appeals that conviction here. The allegations were made by a juvenile (Victim), who was twelve years old at the time. When Appellant attempted, on cross-examination, to inquire into whether Victim had ever made similar accusations against others, the lower court did not allow it, citing the state rape shield statute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The rape shield statute of Louisiana, which prohibits the introduction of evidence related to a victim’s past sexual behavior, is not applicable to, and does not bar admission of, evidence relating to a victim’s past false allegations of sexual behavior.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

To determine whether a statement is admissible as an excited utterance, the trial court must reasonably find:(a) That there was some occurrence startling enough to produce a nervous excitement in the declarant, which was sufficient to still his reflective faculties and thereby make his statements and declarations the unreflective and sincere expression of his actual impressions and beliefs, and thus render his statement or declaration spontaneous and unreflective, (b) that the statement or declaration, even if not strictly contemporaneous with its exciting cause, was made before there had been time for such nervous excitement to lose a domination over his reflective faculties, so that such domination continued to remain sufficient to make his statements and declarations the unreflective and sincere expression of his actual impressions and beliefs, (c) that the statement or declaration related to such startling occurrence or the circumstances of such startling occurrence, and (d) that the declarant had an opportunity to observe personally the matters asserted in his statement or declaration.

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Facts. Victim informed a friend of her mother about alleged inappropriate touching on the part of Appellant, which Victim alleged had gone on for years. At Appellant’s trial for the alleged crimes, Appellant asked Victim’s mother, on cross-examination, whether Victim had made similar accusations against Victim’s cousin and then retracted those allegations. The evidence was disallowed by the lower court, citing the state rape shield statute, which prohibits evidence related to a victim’s prior sexual behavior.

Issue. Was the lower court correct to disallow Appellant to introduce evidence that Victim had made accusations of molestation against her cousin and then retracted those allegations?

Held. No; the lower court committed reversible error by disallowing such evidence, as the state rape shield law prohibits evidence of a victim’s past “sexual behavior,” and here, the evidence disallowed was not concerning the victim’s past sexual behavior, history or reputation for chastity but rather was offered for impeachment purposes.

Discussion. The court reasoned that the conviction of Appellant was based on the jury’s perception of the witnesses’ credibility, as there was no physical evidence of sexual assault. The rape shield statute was inapplicable to Victim’s past allegations of sexual behavior against others, and therefore Appellant was prejudiced by the lower court’s disallowing the evidence.

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