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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Child Bride: Supreme Court Of Louisiana Finds Evidence Of Marriage To Child Bride Admissible To Prove Lustful Disposition

La. C.E. art 412(2)(A) states that

When an accused is charged with a crime involving sexually assaultive behavior, or with acts that constitute a sex offense involving a victim who was under the age of seventeen at the time of the offense, evidence of the accused's commission of another crime, wrong, or act involving sexually assaultive behavior or acts which indicate a lustful disposition toward children may be admissible and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant subject to the balancing test provided in Article 403.

This Rule is somewhat similar but also somewhat different from Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a), which provides that

In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other child molestation. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.

So, what's the difference? Well, in many jurisdictions, the age at which an individual can consent to a marriage is often lower than age at which an individual can consent to sexual acts. And there can't be statutory rape between a husband and a wife. What this means is that an adult who engages in sexual acts with a minor of a certain age is engaging in statutory rape if the minor is not his wife while an adult who engages in sexual acts with a minor of the same age is not engaging in statutory rape if the minor is his wife. 

So, let's say that a defendant is charged with aggravated incest against a minor and previously married his wife (and engaged in sexual acts with her) when he was an adult and she was 14 year-old. Is evidence of the marriage and marital relations admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a)? No. Is it admissible under La. C.E. art 412(2)(A)? As the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Louisiana in State v. Wright, 2011 WL 6091243 (La. 2011), makes clear, the answer is "yes."

In Wright, the facts were as stated above, with Michael Wright being charged with aggravated incest based upon acts allegedly committed against his 17 year-old son, BK. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence of Wright's marriage and marital relations with BC, whom Wright married when she was 14 years-old and a seventh grade classmate of BK. Now, there was also evidence of sexual relations between Wright and BK before they were married, but, after Wright was convicted, he appealed, claiming that evidence of his marriage and marital relations with BC was erroneous because they were both legal. 

The Court of Appeals of Louisiana agreed with Wright, but the Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed. According to the Louisiana Supremes,

The State does not argue this was a crime, but rather argues such evidence was relevant and admissible to explain the actions of BK, to complete the story of what happened and the context in which it happened, and to show the defendant's lustful disposition toward children.

And, based upon the language of La. C.E. art 412(2)(A), you can see why. Evidence of Wright's marriage and marital relations with BC was "evidence of the accused's commission of another...act...which indicate[s] a lustful disposition toward children..." It doesn't matter that the marriage and marital relations were not a "crime," "wrong," or "child molestation." As long as they showed a lustful disposition toward children, they were admissible (regardless of the fact that the genders of BC and BK were different, according to the court).

Conversely, under Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a), only evidence of prior acts of "child molestation" are admissible. Evidence of Wright's marriage and marital relations with BC was not evidence of "child molestation" and thus would not have been admissible against Wright under Rule 414(a) if his case were decided under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/12/413-different-gender-state-v-wright-so3d-2011-wl-6091243la2011.html

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