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Nevada v. Jackson, Supreme Court of the United States

569 U. S. ____ (2013), 133 S.Ct. 1990 (2013).

Nature of the case:

Rape in context of domestic violence.

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

Charges arose from a brutal attack on the defendant's ex-girlfriend. The perpetrator forced his way into the victim’s apartment and raped her after she tried to end the relationship. Prior to trial, the court denied the defendant’s motion to introduce police reports that showed the victim’s prior uncorroborated accusations of rape and assault. The defendant argued that the reports supported his defense that the victim was lying about the current rape charges and that she falsely accused him in an attempt to control him. Evidence before the court showed that the victim had repeatedly made efforts to evade the defendant out of fear and that she was reluctant to cooperate with the police when threatened by the defendant’s friends and associates.

The defendant was convicted and his conviction was upheld on appeal in state court. On habeas appeal in federal court, the defendant argued his conviction should be overturned because the state court’s evidentiary ruling denying his motion to introduce the police reports showing past uncorroborated allegations of sexual violence violated his federal constitutional right to present a complete defense. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the defendant and reversed the conviction reasoning that the state court’s exclusion of the victim’s prior allegations violated his established federal rights. The prosecution then sought review by the United States Supreme Court and asked the court to overturn the Ninth Circuit and reinstate the defendant’s conviction. The United States Supreme Court agreed with the prosecution and reinstated the defendant's conviction, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

The introduction of extrinsic evidence of past false allegations is not required as a constitutional matter and is not a protected right under the Confrontation Clause. Therefore, there was no violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense. Moreover, excluding prior false allegations or other past actions of a witness avoids distracting the jury's attention from the case on trial and prevents the case from evolving into a series of mini trials on collateral issues. It also prevents prejudicial and unfair attacks on the witness’s character and credibility.

Editorial Comment

The nature of domestic violence, compounded by rape, creates an environment of psychological torture that holds victims in silence and isolation. This dynamic explains why victims often recant allegations of abuse or refuse to report domestic violence to law enforcement officials or to stay involved in the criminal justice system. Truly false allegations of sexual assault are exceedingly rare, yet judges in state courts disproportionately allow defendants to introduce past allegations of sexual assault to support even overtly contrived defense theories that the victim is lying about the current charges. The Supreme Court's decision in this case is an important rejection of this strategy and should help to insulate victims from unfair attacks on their credibility.

Curiously, there were no amicus briefs on file with the United States Supreme Court filed by battered women's groups or anti-rape organizations that might have alerted the court to the unfair and disproportionate application of the "prior false allegations" rule to women victims of sexual and domestic violence.

This important decision should be used proactively and cited often by state prosecutors and advocates to improve judicial attention to the problem, and to help change systematic biases that inhibit victims' access to justice by the unchecked development of common law doctrines that allow victims' credibility to be attacked unfairly.

Submitted By: Katherine Ramsey -- Law Student

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