Judicial Language Project
People v. Holmes, NFL Football Player and Prior Rape Allegations (July 1, 2005)
(Case summary by Elizabeth Berretta, law student)
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- Nature of the Case: Rape and Sexual Assault
- Facts: Perpetrator was charged with sex crimes against the victim. The defense sought to admit evidence of the victim's prior rape accusation against an NFL football player, and the fact that she now receives child support from this football player, to impeach her credibility in this case.
- Problematic Language: The opinion repeatedly makes reference to the fact that the victim made allegations of rape "against a Cleveland Browns NFL football player", "an NFL player" and that the victim is "receiving child support payments from that individual.”
- Explanation of Problem: Repeated reference to a prior rape allegation against “an NFL football player” from whom she receives child support, is problematic because it implies, without factual basis, that she accused the NFL player falsely in order to obtain money. In turn, the court conveys the idea that she is not truthful in this matter.
The status of the offender in the prior situation as a professional football player, and the fact that he fathered a child with the victim, is not relevant to a fair assessment of the truth in this case.
- Suggested Alternatives: The court should have mentioned the prior allegation, if at all, only to note that there had been a prior offense - and it should have explained how a prior victimization elucidates the truth on a disputed issue in this case. Information about the prior offender's job or status as father of her child and child support information all should have been excluded as irrelevant.