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United States v. Platero

    Brief Fact Summary. The defendant, Platero (the “defendant”), was convicted of three counts of sexual assault. The defendant was accused of raping the victim after pulling her and her co-worker over while pretending he was a police officer. The defendant claimed the sex was consensual and she made up the sexual assault allegations to protect her relationship with another individual.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a question of relevancy depends on a condition of fact, that question should be determined by the jury.

    Facts. Susan Francis (“Ms. Francis”), and her co-worker, Vernon Laughlin (“Mr. Laughlin”), went to a bar in Gallup, New Mexico on September 1, 1992. They left the bar together around 12:30 am. The defendant, an employee of Gallup Security Service, pulled the two over. He pretended to be a police officer and made Mr. Laughlin leave the car and start walking. He put Ms. Francis in his car claiming he was “taking her in” for Driving While Intoxicated (“DWI”). The defendant drove the car ten minutes away and raped Ms. Francis twice, and forced her to have oral sex. The defendant drove Ms. Francis back to her car and dropped her off. Mr. Laughlin drove Ms. Francis to hospital and Ms. Francis told him she was raped.
    The defendant’s defense theory was that the sex was consensual, and Ms. Francis lied to protect her relationship with Mr. Laughlin. The defendant sought to introduce evidence of Ms. Francis’ past sexual behavior in order to show that she and Mr. Laughlin had a relationship. Ms. Francis and Mr. Laughlin admitted to becoming intimate after the rape, and that they were living together at the time of the trial. A former girlfriend of Mr. Laughlin believed they had been having an affair for a longer period of time. The district court did not allow this evidence.

    The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals previously reviewed this case in Platero I. In Platero I, the case was remanded for the district court to determine the factual issue of whether there was a relationship between Ms. Francis and Mr. Laughlin. On remand, the district court determined that no sexual relationship existed between Ms. Francis and Ms. Laughlin.

    Issue. Was the defendant denied his constitutional right to a jury trial, and his Sixth Amendment constitutional right to cross-examine and confront Ms. Francis by the refusal of the trial court to submit the issue of whether Ms. Francis and Mr. Laughlin were involved in an affair at the time of the offenses?

    Held. Circuit Judge Holloway issued the opinion for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that the defendant did present sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find that a relationship existed between Ms. Francis and Mr. Laughlin at time of the incident, and exclusion deprived the defendant of his constitutional right to a jury trial and his right to confront and cross-examine the witness.

    Discussion. There was a significant change in Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) Rule 412(b) that occurred after Platero I. The change removed the requirement that the court accept evidence on sexual assault and determine the fact issue. The rule change occurred because the advisory committee recommending rule changes recognized the constitutional concerns regarding the right to a jury trial and to confront the witness.


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