Thursday, December 30, 2010

Court corrects grievous wrong that sent a man to prison on testimony of serial false accuser

Here's a story about a shocking case out of Florida that sent a man named Willie Baker to prison for a sex offense against a teenage serial false accuser.

A Florida state trial court refused to allow the jury to hear evidence that the young female accuser had previously accused multiple male relatives of sexual assault on different occasions, and that she admitted that at least two of those allegations were false. The jury, deprived of this evidence, found Mr. Baker guilty.

Mr. Baker subsequently filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.  A federal district court correctly granted the writ, and this week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision granting the writ of habeas corpus. The Eleventh Circuit held that the state court's decision excluding the impeachment evidence violated Mr. Baker's rights under the Confrontation and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Baker v. Florida, No. 10-11889 (11th Cir. filed Dec. 27, 2010).

As you read the facts, ask yourself why this young serial false accuser was not in custody at the time she made the accusation against Mr. Baker.  Here's what happened: in 1999, a 15-year-old girl identified only as "D.A." filed an abuse report against the defendant, Willie Baker, her brother-in-law, which entailed "oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by or union with the sexual organ of another."  D.A. testified that she was living with her sister and Baker in 1999. She said, "I was laying on the couch and my sister went out . . . . So, [Baker] came—out of the blue, just came out touching me, feeling on me. He grabbed my finger, my hand, and took me in their room. She added:  "He undressed me and he laid me down on the bed and he had sex with me with a condom. And I told him that I don't go out like that, period." She testified that on another occasion he "was going to try to do it again, but [she] would[ not] let him."

Mr. Baker's counsel cross-examined the girl outside the presence of the jury. Pay attention to the following:

(1) The girl stated that she used to live in Alabama with her grandmother, but that she came to Florida because her "auntie's boyfriend" raped her when she was nine years old. Why wasn't "auntie's boyfriend" prosecuted?  Because "[t]hey couldn't catch up with him."

(2) She further testified that she spent her first couple of days in Florida living with her uncle, Risey Darden, until his grandsons tried to have sex with her. (Note the plural -- "grandsons." That means at least two.) 

(3) The girl was asked whether she had also accused her uncle, Risey Darden, of trying to have sex with her, she testified that Darden had not tried to have sex with her, but that she might have accused him of doing so.

(4) She later moved in with her other sister, Angela Price, and brother-in-law, Eddie Price. While she was living with them, she accused Eddie Price of trying to have sex with her, but she later told an investigator that he had not done so.

(5) At one time, she accused her brother, Lloyd Andrews, of having sex with her, as well. She testified that Andrews had not had sex with her.

By my count, that's at least five or six males this girl has accused of improperly having sex with her.  That we know of.  She admitted that three of those males were innocent. 
Outside the presence of the jury, Mr. Baker also proffered testimony from Andrews (brother), Darden (uncle), and Angela Price (sister) regarding D.A.'s past allegations of sexual abuse, all of which they denied.
Mr. Baker asked the court to allow the jury to hear this evidence about the girl's prior allegations of sexual assault by multiple males because, he correctly argued, it was relevant to her credibility and veracity. The court, however, excluded the evidence on grounds that only general reputation evidence, not specific instances of untruthfulness, could be used for impeachment.
After hearing the remaining evidence, the jury found Baker guilty.

Mr. Baker filed a writ of habeas corpus in Federal Court. The district court granted the motion, and this week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed it.

The Eleventh Circuit wrote:

"Here, D.A. was questioned under oath about her past accusations of sexual assault by male relatives. She testified that her auntie's boyfriend' raped her when she was nine years old, but he was never caught. She said that Risey Darden's grandsons tried to have sex with her during the day and a half that she spent at Darden's home, but Darden denied that it had happened. She said that she might have accused Darden of having sex with her, as well, but he had not done so. While she was living with Eddie Price, she accused him of trying to have sex with her, but later told an investigator that he had not done so. While she was living with Lloyd Andrews, she accused him of having sex with her, as well, but she testified that he had not done so. Thus, D.A. herself explicitly stated that the allegations against Price and Andrews were false, she acknowledged that she might have made a third false accusation against Darden, and Darden would have testified that the allegation against his grandsons also was false.

"D.A.'s truthfulness was key to the prosecution, and the evidence of her prior false accusations not only spoke to her general character for truthfulness, but particularly attacked her truthfulness and motivation for testifying as they related directly to her allegation against Baker. . . . The evidence that D.A. had habitually lied about sexual assaults by family members had 'strong potential to demonstrate the falsity of [her] testimony' in this case, and 'a reasonable jury might have received a significantly different impression of [her] credibility had defense counsel been permitted to pursue his proposed line of cross-examination.' . . . . Supreme Court precedent clearly indicates that the exclusion of the false-accusation evidence violated Baker's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Thus, failure to find a Confrontation Clause violation would constitute an unreasonable application of federal law."
Justice was done. But not before a man was sentenced for a horrible crime due to the allegations of a serial false accuser, and not before the state of Florida continued to fight against his release in state and federal courts.

Everyone agrees that serial rapists need to be locked away.  It is astounding that there is not a similar consensus -- at least among the people who run our law enforcement and judicial systems -- for serial false accusers.