488 U.S. 227 (1988), 88-5223, Olden v. Kentucky

Docket Nº:No. 88-5223
Citation:488 U.S. 227, 109 S.Ct. 480, 102 L.Ed.2d 513
Party Name:Olden v. Kentucky
Case Date:December 12, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 227

488 U.S. 227 (1988)

109 S.Ct. 480, 102 L.Ed.2d 513




No. 88-5223

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 12, 1988




Petitioner and one Harris, who are black, were charged with the kidnaping, rape, and forcible sodomy of Starla Matthews, a white woman. In his defense, petitioner asserted that he and Matthews had engaged in consensual sex, an account corroborated by several witnesses. Matthews' story was corroborated only by the testimony of one Russell. Petitioner claimed that, at the time of the incident, Matthews and Russell had been engaged in an extramarital affair, and that she had lied to Russell to protect that relationship. In order to show that Matthews had a motive to lie, petitioner wanted to introduce evidence that Matthews and Russell were living together at the time of the trial. However, the trial court granted the prosecutor's motion to keep such evidence from the jury, and sustained the prosecutor's objection when the defense attempted to cross-examine Matthews about the matter after she had testified that she was living with her mother. The jury acquitted Harris of all charges and found petitioner guilty only of forcible sodomy. On appeal, petitioner claimed, inter alia, that the court's failure to allow him to impeach Matthews' testimony deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The Court of Appeals of Kentucky upheld the conviction. While acknowledging the relevance of the testimony, it found that the probative value of the evidence was outweighed by the possibility of prejudice against Matthews that might result from revealing her interracial relationship to the jury.

Held: Petitioner was denied his right to confront the witnesses against him, and, considering the relevant factors enumerated in Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, that error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Matthews' testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case. Her account was directly contradicted by petitioner, and was corroborated only by the testimony of Russell, whose impartiality may have been impugned by evidence of his relationship with Matthews. In addition, as the jury's verdicts show, the State's case was far from overwhelming.

Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.

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Per curiam opinion.


Petitioner James Olden and his friend Charlie Ray Harris, both of whom are black, were indicted for kidnaping, rape, and forcible sodomy. The victim of the alleged crimes, Starla Matthews, a young white woman, gave the following account at trial: she and a friend, Regina Patton, had driven to Princeton, Kentucky, to exchange Christmas gifts with Bill Russell, petitioner's half-brother. After meeting Russell at a local car wash and exchanging presents with him, Matthews and Patton stopped in J.R.'s, a "boot-legging joint" serving a predominantly black clientele, to use the restroom. Matthews consumed several glasses of beer. As the bar became more crowded, she became increasingly nervous because she and Patton were the only white people there. When Patton refused to leave, Matthews sat at a separate table, hoping to demonstrate to her friend that she was upset. As time passed, however, Matthews lost track of Patton and became somewhat intoxicated. When petitioner told her that Patton had departed and had been in a car accident, she left the bar with petitioner and Harris to find out what had happened. She was driven in Harris' car to another location, where, threatening her with a knife, petitioner raped and sodomized her. Harris assisted by holding her arms. Later, she was driven to a dump, where two other men joined the group. There, petitioner raped her once again. At her request, the men then dropped her off in the vicinity of Bill Russell's house.

On cross-examination, petitioner's counsel focused on a number of inconsistencies in Matthews' various accounts of the alleged crime. Matthews originally told the police that she had been raped by four men. Later, she claimed that she had been raped by only petitioner and Harris. At trial, she contended that petitioner was the sole rapist. Further, while Matthews testified at trial that petitioner had threatened her with a knife, she had not previously alleged that petitioner had been armed.

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Russell, who also appeared as a State's witness, testified that, on the evening in question, he heard a noise outside his home and, when he went out to investigate, saw Matthews get out of Harris' car. Matthews immediately told Russell that she had just been raped by petitioner and Harris.

Petitioner and Harris asserted a defense of consent. According to their testimony, Matthews propositioned petitioner as he was about to leave the bar, and the two engaged in sexual acts behind the tavern. Afterwards, on Matthews' suggestion, Matthews, petitioner, and Harris left in Harris' car in search of cocaine. When they discovered that the seller was not at home, Matthews asked Harris to drive to a local dump so that she and petitioner could have sex once again. Harris complied. Later that evening, they picked up two other [109 S.Ct. 482] men, Richard Hickey and Chris Taylor, and drove to an establishment called The Alley. Harris, Taylor, and Hickey went in, leaving petitioner and Matthews in the car. When Hickey and Harris returned, the men gave Hickey a ride to a store and then dropped Matthews off, at her request, in the vicinity of Bill Russell's home.

Taylor and Hickey testified for the defense, and corroborated the defendants' account of the evening. While both acknowledged that they joined the group later than the time when the alleged rape occurred, both testified that Matthews did not appear upset. Hickey further testified that Matthews had approached him earlier in the evening at J.R.'s and told him that she was looking for a black man with whom to have sex. An independent witness also appeared for the defense and...

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