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Stephens v. Miller

    Brief Fact Summary. Lonnie K. Stephens (Appellant) was convicted of attempted rape following intercourse with Melissa Wilburn (Victim); Appellant claimed the sex was consensual and Victim denies it was. Appellant now appeals his conviction and the denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus based on the lower court’s exclusion of statements made by Appellant in an offer of proof.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When applying state rape shield statutes, courts are required to evaluate whether the interests served by the statute’s prohibitions give good reason for any restrictions placed on a defendant’s right to testify.

    Facts. According to victim, Appellant entered her trailer and began making unwanted sexual advances. When Victim did not allow Appellant to kiss her, she claims Appellant became angry and aggressive, and further claims that she had to escape by running to her own bathroom.
    According to Appellant, he arrived at Victim’s trailer and began to engage her in sexual behaviors, all of which were consensual. Appellant claims that during the consensual intercourse he made a comment to Victim concerning her sexual history with another man, which enraged Victim, who then ordered Appellant to leave the trailer.
    The lower court allowed Appellant to testify that he had made certain comments that outraged Victim, but did not allow Appellant to state the exact comments he had made, which concerned Victim’s sexual past.

    Issue. Did the lower court error in its application of the state rape shield law by denying Appellant his constitutional right to testify in his own defense by preventing him from stating his version of the events?

    Held. No; a proper balance was struck between the interests of the state and Appellant’s right to testify, as Appellant was permitted to give his entire version of the facts except for the excluded evidence.

    Dissent.
    Judge Cummings dissents, and Judges Cudahy and Manion join, arguing that, “[a]llowing [Appellant’s] testimony acknowledges that because the protection of defendants’ rights is fundamental to our system, at times other interest may be impaired. Given the significance of the excised testimony to his case, [the state’s] interests must yield to Stephens’ fundamental constitutional right to present his defense.” (emphasis added).

    Judge Cudahy dissents, writing, “Stephens was denied his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf, and because we cannot conclude that the error was harmless, the district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief should be reversed.”

    Judge Coffey dissents, writing, “the Constitution mandates a minor exception to the rape shield statute to allow the defendant to have his day in court to present the very key words to his defense.” (citations omitted, emphasis added).

    Judge Ripple dissents, writing, “This case thus leaves us with the haunting fear that, had the jury been allowed to hear both sides of the story and evaluate the demeanor of both witnesses as they told what happened, the result may well have been different.”

    Concurrence.
    Judge Flaum concurs, writing, “[t]hough the right to present relevant testimony in one’s own behalf is of constitutional dimension, it is not without limitation and ‘may, in appropriate cases, bow to accommodate other legitimate interests in the criminal trial process.’” (citations omitted).

    Judge Rovner concurs, arguing that Appellant’s, “interest in introducing the testimony for the limited purposes that he envisioned may, in my view, properly be subordinated to the State’s interest in excluding the evidence.”


    Discussion. The majority argues that the limitation of the testimony was so narrow that it does not offend the constitutional or Appellant’s constitutional right to testify. The majority writes, “[Appellant] was allowed to give his entire version of the facts, except for the excluded evidence . . . [and] to testify in front of the jury that he said something to [Victim] that angered her and caused her to fabricate the attempted rape charge. The court did nothing arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes the . . . Rape Shield Statute was designed to serve when it excluded [the evidence].


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