In cases involving illegal sexual contact between an adult and a minor, often brought as sexual battery or lewd or lascivious molestation charges, one issue that often comes up is whether the alleged victim made prior false accusations of a sexual nature against someone else in the past. Anyone charged with a sex crime against a minor might automatically assume that at a trial, the defendant would be able to bring out the fact that the alleged victim previously made similar false accusations against someone else. However, that is not necessarily the case.
In Florida, a witness’s credibility cannot be attacked by showing the victim committed prior acts of misconduct unless those prior acts resulted in certain criminal convictions. In other words, the defense cannot tell the judge or jury that the victim did prior bad things (i.e. make a false sexual abuse allegation) if those prior bad things did not result in a criminal conviction. This issue often comes up in the sexual abuse context. For instance, a very common sexual abuse case will stem from a girl accusing a person, a stepfather perhaps, of sexual molestation. Typically, that girl’s testimony is the most significant, or only, evidence in the state’s case. Her credibility will be a crucial aspect of the case. What if the defendant knew the girl had made a similar prior false accusation against her uncle and had several witnesses to prove it? Can the defendant bring out that evidence at trial? Very likely, no. Unless the girl’s prior false accusation resulted in a conviction against her for false report of a crime or some similar crime, which is highly unlikely, the defendant may not be permitted to bring her prior false accusation out in court.
There is an exception if the defendant can prove the prior false accusation is evidence of bias or a motive to lie in the present case. However, this is more likely to be successful if the prior false accusation was against the same person.
Every case is different, and these issues will depend on the particular facts of the case. However, a person charged with a sex crime should not automatically assume his/her criminal defense lawyer can bring out evidence of the alleged victim’s prior false accusation in court. It is possible, but it is not automatic like some people may think.