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People v. Guevara, Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two

2011 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 2565

Nature of the case:

Forcible lewd and lascivious acts on a minor, non-forcible lewd and lascivious acts on a minor, and assault with intent to commit sodomy.

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

The defendant, whom the 10-year old victim referred to as her uncle, on diffident occasions, touched the victim’s breasts, forced the victim to touch the defendant’s penis, and put his penis near the victim’s anus. Prior to trial, the prosecutor sought to exclude evidence concerning the accusation that in addition to the defendant, another uncle possibly molested the victim. During the investigation of the case, the victim had told an officer that another uncle also had molested her. The victim also informed a rape counselor that in addition to the defendant, a different uncle had also sexually assaulted her. The other uncle was never prosecuted for the crime and the defendant sought to use the accusation for the purpose of impeaching the victim. The trial court excluded the evidence on the basis that the accusation was not proven to be false, therefore, it could not be used by the defendant for impeachment purposes. The defendant was convicted. On appeal, he argued that the trial court erred when it excluded the evidence. The Appellate Court disagreed, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

The defendant argued that the evidence was admissible for impeachment purposes because the other uncle was never charged with the crime, and her two separate allegations contained contradictory statements, the prior claim was "false". This argument fails because "falseness" has not been established, and making a determination of actual falseness would require a separate mini trial, at which the parties would be required to "present evidence concerning two…past sexual incidents which never reached the point of formal charges. Such a proceeding would consume considerable time, and divert attention of the jury from the case at hand…”

Editorial Comment

Allowing every prior complaint that was not prosecuted to be presumed "false" makes no sense as the decision not to prosecute rarely means there was ANY evidence of "falseness", much less a formal determination that the victim lied. Moreover, as the moving party, the defendant bears the burden of proving the admissibility of evidence he seeks to use to impeach a witness. If the law allows only actually "false" prior claims to be admitted, and the accused cannot sustain his burden, the evidence cannot be admitted. The fact that he can use such evidence is not the same as a "right" to use the court system to develop the evidence. The dilemma in this case exemplifies why having any rule of law that allows a prior "false" allegation to be admitted is inherently problematic - not only because a past lie tells the court nothing about whether a victim was truthful on a different occasion, but also because the rule legitimizes the myth that rape victims, alone, are worthy of special skepticism given that the prior false claim rule does not apply to victims of theft, crimes, etc.

Submitted By: Brent DiMarco -- Law Student

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