State v. Martin, 241 N.C. App. 602 (Jun. 16, 2015)

In this sexual offense with a student case, the trial court committed reversible error by concluding that the defendant’s evidence was per se inadmissible under the Rape Shield Rule. The case involved charges that the defendant, a substitute teacher, had the victim perform oral sex on him after he caught her in the boys’ locker room. At trial the defendant sought to introduce evidence that when he found the victim in the locker room, she was performing oral sex on football players. He sought to introduce this evidence to show that the victim had a motive to falsely accuse him of sexual assault. After an in camera hearing the trial court concluded that the evidence was per se inadmissible because it did not fit under the Rape Shield Rule’s four exceptions. Citing case law, the court determined that “that there may be circumstances where evidence which touches on the sexual behavior of the complainant may be admissible even though it does not fall within one of the categories in the Rape Shield Statute.” Here, the defendant’s defense was that he did not engage in any sexual behavior with the victim but that she fabricated the story to hide the fact that he caught her performing oral sex on the football players in the locker room. The court continued:

Where the State’s case in any criminal trial is based largely on the credibility of a prosecuting witness, evidence tending to show that the witness had a motive to falsely accuse the defendant is certainly relevant. The motive or bias of the prosecuting witness is an issue that is common to criminal prosecutions in general and is not specific to only those crimes involving a type of sexual assault.

       The trial court erred by concluding that the evidence was inadmissible per se because it did not fall within one of the four categories in the Rape Shield Statute. Here, the trial court should have looked beyond the four categories to determine whether the evidence was, in fact, relevant to show [the victim]’s motive to falsely accuse Defendant and, if so, conducted a balancing test of the probative and prejudicial value of the evidence under Rule 403 or was otherwise inadmissible on some other basis (e.g., hearsay). (footnote omitted).