Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Federal Rule of Evidence 413(a) provides that
In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of a sexual assault, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other sexual assault. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.
Federal Rule of Evidence 414(a) 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.
And Federal Rule of Evidence 415(a) provides that
In a civil case involving a claim for relief based on a party’s alleged sexual assault or child molestation, the court may admit evidence that the party committed any other sexual assault or child molestation. The evidence may be considered as provided in Rules 413 and 414.
I've written before about which states have created counterparts to some or all of these Rules. The partial adopters usually only adopt Rules 413(a) and 414(a), meaning that prior sex crimes are admissible at criminal, but not civil trials. As yesterday's opinion in The People of Guam v. Chinel makes clear, however, the island nation has adopted Rules 413(a) and 415(a) but not 414(a). What does this mean, and how does the territory apply them?
The facts of Chinel are pretty straightforward, with a defendant being charged with various sex crimes and the prosecution introducing evidence of his prior sex crimes. As such, the court had to determine whether evidence of the past crimes were admissible under Guam's version of Federal Rule of Evidence 413(a). In reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court of Guam adopted the threshold three factor test that many federal courts have applied when faced with a Rule 413(a) issue:
First, the defendant in the present case must be accused of sexual assault....Second, the evidence proffered must be evidence of the defendant's commission of another past act of sexual assault....Third, the past act must be relevant, meaning that its existence must make any fact at issue more or less probable than if such evidence were excluded.
The Court then noted that even evidence that satisfies its version of Rule 413(a) must not have its probative value substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice (under its version of Federal Rule of Evidence 403), with that decision made with reference to five factors. And, according to the court,
These factors are: (1) “the similarity of the prior acts to the acts charged,” (2) the “closeness in time of the prior acts to the acts charged,” (3) “the frequency of the prior acts,” (4) the “presence or lack of intervening circumstances,” and (5) “the necessity of the evidence beyond the testimonies already offered at trial.”
In other words, the Supreme Court applies a pretty standard test to determine the admissibility of prior acts of sexual assault and found that test was satisfied in the case before it.
Maybe the most interesting thing about the Court's opinion, then, is footnote one, which states that "Guam has not passed an analogue to FRE 414, and GRE 414 is 'reserved.'" This seems like an odd choice to me. Two of the main reasons for the passage of Rules 413-415 were: (1) that sex offenders have high recidivism rates; and (2) that victims of child molestation often have their credibility undermined by defense counsel.
Many people question why (1) justifies the admission of evidence of past sex crimes as compared to evidence of, say, past drug offenses. But, putting that aside, all of the evidence seems to point to child molesters having higher recidivism rates than those who sexually assault adults. Given this, and given that (2) applies solely to child molestation victims (although adult rape victims can obviously also have their credibility attacked), why would Guam allow evidence of past sexual assaults to be admissible and evidence of past acts of child molestation to be inadmissible?