Prior False Accusation in Sexual Battery Case May Not Be Admissible at Trial

In Florida, in a lewd or lascivious molestation or battery case, or a sexual battery case, the credibility of the victim’s testimony is often the most critical factor in the case. In many of these cases, the victims are children who may be less predictable in the things they say and may not appreciate the importance of telling the complete truth in a legal proceeding. In any case, but particularly in lewd or lascivious molestation or battery cases, the criminal defense lawyer’s job is to question the victim to determine the accuracy of the victim’s statement incriminating the defendant.

However, the criminal defense lawyer does not have free reign to ask the victim any questions and bring out bad things the victim may have done in the past. One area that would seem to be critical to determine the credibility of the victim would be prior, similar false accusations. For instance, if the victim is saying the defendant in the present case sexually assaulted her, should the criminal defense attorney have the right to inform the jury that the victim made a similar accusation of sexual assault against the defendant’s brother two years earlier that proved to be false? It would seem like this would be important information for a jury to know about the victim. However, a recent Florida Supreme Court case said that such information would likely be inadmissible at a trial. The general rule is that the criminal defense lawyer may not bring out evidence about the victim’s prior bad acts, including similar but false accusations about another person.

The criminal defense lawyer can attack the credibility of the victim, but he/she is limited in his/her methods. The criminal defense attorney can bring out the fact that the victim has a prior conviction(s) for a felony or a misdemeanor crime that involved dishonesty. For instance, if a person made a similar, false accusation of a sexual assault about someone else and was arrested and convicted for false report of a crime, the criminal defense lawyer would be able to inform the jury that the victim has a prior conviction. However, that is rare when dealing with young victims. The criminal defense lawyer also has the right to bring out any facts that tend to show the victim’s testimony is biased or the victim has a motive to be untruthful. Therefore, if the victim has multiple false accusations against other people or one prior, false accusation against this defendant, that evidence should be admissible at the trial to show the victim is biased towards the defendant or has a motive for lying in this context.

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