State v. Long

Decision Date01 July 2004
Docket NumberNo. SC 85620.,SC 85620.
Citation140 S.W.3d 27
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Jeffrey D. LONG, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Appeal from the Circuit Court, Clay County, Michael J. Maloney, J Craig A. Johnston, Office of the State Public Defender, Columbia, MO, for Appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Richard A. Starnes, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, MO, for Respondent.

RICHARD B. TEITELMAN, Judge.

Jeffrey D. Long was convicted of one count of forcible rape, section 566.030, RSMo 2000,1 and one count of forcible sodomy, section 566.060. The trial court abused its discretion by prohibiting Long from introducing evidence of prior false allegations by the victim. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded.

FACTS

According to the state's evidence, the victim went to Long's apartment with Chris Manning. Once at Long's apartment, all three began drinking. At some point, Long and Manning beat and sexually assaulted the victim and then forced her out of Long's apartment and into a hallway. She remained there until the next morning because she was afraid and in pain. She then walked to a nearby grocery store, where a security guard called a taxi for her. She went home, bathed, and tried to recover from the assault.

A few days later, she reported the incident to police. A medical examination revealed bruising, rectal trauma, and vaginal tears and abrasions consistent with a sexual assault. Although there was substantial physical evidence that the victim had been assaulted, a police search of Long's apartment recovered no evidence indicating the victim had been assaulted there. There was no physical evidence linking Long to the assault. Long denied assaulting the victim. There were no other witnesses.

In order to rebut the victim's allegations, Long attempted to introduce testimony from three witnesses via offers of proof. In the first offer of proof, Timothy Wilson testified that the victim had told the police that he had physically assaulted her by hitting her on the head with a rock. Wilson also testified that, on another occasion, the victim had told police that he had threatened her with harm. The neighbor testified that both allegations were false.

In the second offer of proof, a police detective testified that the victim alleged that Wilson had threatened her. The detective testified that the victim later called her and said that Wilson was not the man who threatened her.

In the final offer of proof, the neighborhood property manager testified that the victim called her and accused Wilson of luring her from her home by pretending to be a security guard and then sexually assaulting her. Two weeks later, the victim called the property manager and recanted her story.

The trial court excluded the testimony in each offer of proof, concluding that it was irrelevant and not "proper character evidence." Long's attorney did not cross-examine the victim regarding these prior allegations.

ANALYSIS

In his first point on appeal,2 Long argues that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony of the three witnesses who said that the victim had made previous false allegations of sexual or physical assault. Long maintains that the excluded testimony was central to his defense that the victim had falsely accused him of assaulting her.3 The state argues that the proffered testimony was inadmissible as an improper attempt to prove the victim's untruthfulness with extrinsic evidence of specific acts of misconduct.

I.

Missouri law allows a party to attack the credibility of witness by demonstrating the witnesses' bad character for truth and veracity. John C. O'Brien, MISSOURI LAW OF EVIDENCE, section 5-7 (3d ed.1996). While a party may cross-examine the witness regarding specific acts of misconduct relating to credibility, these prior acts may not be proven by extrinsic evidence. Rousan v. State, 48 S.W.3d 576, 590 (Mo. banc 2001). Thus, when a defendant cross-examines a witness about prior misconduct, the defendant is "bound by the witness' answer" and "cannot offer evidence to the contrary, unless, of course, the character of the witness has been put in issue on direct examination." State v. Williams, 492 S.W.2d 1, 4 (Mo.App.1973).

The bar on extrinsic evidence of prior, specific acts of misconduct furthers the general policy focusing the fact-finder the most probative facts and conserving judicial resources by avoiding mini-trials on collateral issues. Hoffman v. Graber, 153 S.W.2d 817, 820 (Mo.App.1941). In some cases, however, the rule excluding extrinsic evidence of prior false allegations fails to serve this purpose by shielding the fact-finder not from collateral issues, but from a central issue in the case. An issue is not collateral if it is a "crucial issue directly in controversy." State v. Williams, 849 S.W.2d 575, 578 (Mo.App.1993). Where, as in this case, a witness' credibility is a key factor in determining guilt or acquittal, excluding extrinsic evidence of the witnesses' prior false allegations deprives the fact-finder of evidence that is highly relevant to a crucial issue directly in controversy; the credibility of the witness. An evidentiary rule rendering non-collateral, highly relevant evidence inadmissible must yield to the defendant's constitutional right to present a full defense. Mo. Const. art. 1, section 18(a).

To remedy this problem, several jurisdictions allow defendants to introduce extrinsic evidence to prove that a victim has previously made false allegations.4 Although the exact rationales for and restrictions on the admissibility of such evidence varies, the common theme is a concern for striking the appropriate balance between avoiding misguided focus on collateral issues while allowing the accused to fully defend against the charge.

The current Missouri rule prohibiting extrinsic evidence of prior false allegations does not strike the appropriate balance. Therefore, a criminal defendant in Missouri may, in some cases, introduce extrinsic evidence of prior false allegations. This rule is not limited to sexual assault or rape cases.

II.

Having determined that extrinsic evidence of prior false allegations may be admissible, the requirements for establishing admissibility must be defined. In cases involving rape or sexual assault, most states require trial courts to make a preliminary determination, outside the presence of the jury, that (1) the victim made another allegation of rape or sexual assault; (2) this allegation was false; and, (3) the victim knew the allegation was false. Morgan v. State, 54 P.3d 332, 337 (Alaska App.2002).

While the second and third requirements are sound, the first is not. Prior false allegations are relevant to the witness' credibility. The relevance of the prior false allegation is thus derived primarily from the fact that the allegation was false and not entirely from the subject matter of the prior false allegation. The rule limiting the inquiry to prior false allegations that are the same as the charged offense erroneously focuses the relevance analysis entirely upon the subject matter of the allegation and ignores the fact from which relevance to witness credibility is derived; the fact that the allegation was false. Therefore, the fundamental requirement for admitting extrinsic evidence of a prior false allegation should be a showing of legal relevance5 in which the trial court must balance the probative value of the knowingly made prior false allegation with the potential prejudice. Of course, similarities between the prior false allegation and the charged offense as well as circumstances under which the allegation was made all factor into the relevance analysis. A prior false allegation could be so remote in time or made under circumstances so dissimilar to the charged offense that the prejudice outweighs the probative value. As with any other relevancy ruling, trial courts retain wide discretion in determining the legal relevance of prior false allegations.

Most states require a defendant to establish that the prosecuting witness previously made knowingly false allegations either by a preponderance of the evidence or by clear and convincing evidence. Morgan, 54 P.3d at 338. The preponderance of the evidence standard is consistent with other foundational requirements6 for admitting or excluding evidence in Missouri and is, therefore, the applicable standard for determining whether a defendant has established that the prosecuting witness previously made knowingly false allegations. As in other cases, the defendant may rely upon the full panoply of available evidence for establishing admissibility. Documents, witnesses and other such evidence may be admissible to demonstrate the relevance of prior false allegations.

III.

The facts of this case indicate that Long is entitled to an opportunity to establish the admissibility of extrinsic evidence regarding the victim's prior false allegations.7 The prosecuting witness testified that Long assaulted her. Long denies doing so. No other witnesses testified that Long sexually assaulted the victim. There was no physical evidence linking Long to the assault on the victim. The jury's assessment of the relative credibility of Long and the prosecuting witness was the key to Long's conviction, thereby enhancing the relevance of prior false allegations. Under these circumstances, excluding evidence of prior false allegations was prejudicial because the Long was deprived of a full opportunity to present his defense that the witness was fabricating the present allegations against him.

The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for a new trial.8

WHITE, C.J., WOLFF and STITH, JJ., concur.

PRICE, J., dissents in separate opinion filed.

LIMBAUGH, J., dissents in separate opinion filed.

BENTON, J., concurs in opinion of LIMBAUGH, J.

WILLIAM RAY PRICE, JR., Judge, dissenting.

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  • § 22.09 Untruthful Character—Prior Acts: FRE 608(b)
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    ...do not satisfy the examiner, it is said that the examiner is bound by or 'stuck' with the responses."). But see State v. Long, 140 S.W.3d 27, 30-31 (Mo. 2004) ("The bar on extrinsic evidence of prior, specific acts of misconduct furthers the general policy focusing the fact-finder the most ......
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    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Evidence (CAP) Title Chapter 22 Witness Credibility: Fre 607-609, 613
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    ...do not satisfy the examiner, it is said that the examiner is bound by or 'stuck' with the responses."). But see State v. Long, 140 S.W.3d 27, 30-31 (Mo. 2004) ("The bar on extrinsic evidence of prior, specific acts of misconduct furthers the general policy focusing the fact-finder the most ......

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