Rudolfo Lopez was charged with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy named Paul. At trial, he unsuccessfully sought to introduce evidence that two years earlier Paul had falsely accused his mother of physical abuse. Lopez argues that the evidence should have been admitted because the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution demands it. We conclude that the trial court properly excluded the evidence.
Paul testified that Lopez compelled Paul to perform oral sex on Lopez numerous times over the course of several months. Lopez attempted to impeach Paul's credibility with evidence that two years earlier, Paul had complained to the Texas Department of Human Services that his mother had thrown him against a washing machine, and that case had been closed without any action taken against the mother.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY Lopez was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child, and sentenced to 12 years in prison on each count. On appeal, Lopez argued he should have been permitted to impeach Paul with evidence of the prior false accusation. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the evidence should have been admitted. (1) We vacated that opinion and remanded the case for the court of appeals to address the State's argument that the evidence was inadmissible pursuant to Rule of Evidence 608(b). (2) On remand, the court of appeals held, despite Rule 608(b), the Confrontation Clause demands that the evidence be admitted. (3)
Both the District Attorney and the State Prosecuting Attorney filed petitions for discretionary review, which we granted. The District Attorney argues that "[t]he Court of Appeals erred in holding that [Lopez] was entitled under the right to confrontation to impeach [Paul's] credibility with evidence that [Paul] made a prior false or unfounded allegation of abuse, of a kind different than that for which [Lopez] was prosecuted, and made against someone other than [Lopez]." The State Prosecuting Attorney's petition asks, "Does the exclusion of evidence, pursuant to Tex.R.Evid. 608(b), that the victim of a sexually-related offense made a previous, unsubstantiated complaint of physical abuse against a third person, constitute a violation of the accused's federal constitutional right to confrontation of witnesses?"
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of an accused in a criminal prosecution to be confronted with the witnesses against him. (4) Confrontation means more than being allowed to confront the witness physically. (5) A primary interest secured by the Confrontation Clause is the right of cross-examination. (6) Each Confrontation Clause issue must be weighed on a case-by-case basis, carefully taking into account the defendant's right to cross-examine and the risk factors associated with admission of the evidence. (7) In weighing whether evidence must be admitted under the Confrontation Clause, the trial court should balance the probative value of the evidence sought to be introduced against the risk its admission may entail. (8) The trial court maintains broad discretion to impose reasonable limits on cross-examination to avoid harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, endangering the witness, and the injection of cumulative or collateral evidence. (9)
We have previously indicated that the Confrontation Clause will prevail if there is a conflict between it and the Rules of Evidence. (10) Indeed, Rule 101(c) of the Rules of Evidence dictates that the Constitution should control if there is a conflict. But that Rule also admonishes us that, "where possible, inconsistency is to be removed by reasonable construction."
Rule 608(b) of the Rules of Evidence (11) provides that "[s]pecific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting his credibility, other than conviction of crime as provided in Rule 609, may not be inquired into on cross-examination of the witness nor proved by extrinsic evidence." The issue we face is whether, in a case involving a sexual offense, the Confrontation Clause demands that evidence of the complainant's prior false allegations of abuse against a person other than the defendant be admissible, despite Rule 608(b)'s proscription against admitting specific instances of conduct. We must decide whether the Confrontation Clause requires us to carve out a special exception to the Rules of Evidence for sexual offenses.
We addressed a similar issue in Boutwell v. State. (12) In that case, the issue was whether the State could admit extraneous offense evidence against the defendant. A plurality of this Court recognized "a narrow exception for sex offenses to permit admission of similar extraneous sex offenses which occurred between the minor complainant and the accused." (13) But we later disavowed Boutwell in Vernon v. State, (14) where we pointed out that the Rules of Evidence, enacted after Boutwell, were "the most important guide to admissibility" of evidence. (15)
Based on Vernon, the Rules of Evidence should govern the admissibility of evidence, and we should not create a special exception to Rule 608(b) for sexual offenses. But today's case is different because it involves the admission of previous bad acts against the complainant, as opposed to the admission of extraneous offenses against the defendant. So the Confrontation Clause becomes relevant and may dictate a different result.
Other states have held that the Confrontation Clause requires creating a special exception for sexual offenses to allow admission of prior false accusations of abuse by the complainant despite evidentiary bars. (16) But the rationale behind these opinions is not at all clear. Some recurring themes are that sex offenses are somehow unique because (1) they are easily charged and difficult to disprove; (17) (2) there are usually no witnesses to the offense, so the credibility of the complainant and the defendant are more critical issues; (18) and (3) the nature of the charge is apt to arouse sympathy and create bias. (19) None of these rationales persuades us to create an across-the-board exception to the Rules of Evidence for sex offenses.
Legal commentators have also recognized the peculiarity of the sex-offense exception recognized in other states. Professors Goode, Wellborn, and Sharlot point out that this rule
"cannot be easily squared with the dictates of Rule 608(b). Typically, the probative value of such evidence flows from the inference it raises as to the complainant's propensity to make false claims -- precisely the type of inference proscribed by Rule 608(b)." (22)
We agree. Rule 608(b) mandates that "[s]pecific acts not resulting in conviction may not be used to demonstrate the witness's untrustworthy nature." (23) As the Ohio Court has pointed out, "the mere fact that an alleged rape victim made prior false allegations does not automatically mean that she is fabricating the present charge." (24) Prior false allegations of abuse "do not tend to prove or disprove any of the elements of rape." (25)
So the out-of-state cases recognizing a "sexual offense" exception rely on nothing but generalizations, and the generalizations are just not true in every case. It makes no sense to say that certain factors will always be present in a case involving a sexual offense but will never be present in a case involving a different type of offense. In Lagrone, we refused to allow the defendant "to circumvent Criminal Rule 608(b)'s moratorium on the use of specific instances of conduct for impeachment." (26) We see no reason to create a special exception to Rule 608(b) today. A more logical approach is to look at each individual case to determine whether the Confrontation Clause demands the admissibility of certain evidence.
Because we find (1) our precedent does not favor creating a special exception to the Rules of Evidence for sex offenses, and (2) the rationale of the out-of-state cases creating a universal sexual offense exception is unpersuasive, we decline to create a per se exception to the Rule 608(b) for sexual offenses.
But although we decline to create a per se exception to the Rule, we acknowledge that the Confrontation Clause occasionally may require the admissibility of evidence that the Rules of Evidence would exclude. So we must consider whether the Confrontation Clause requires the admission of Paul's prior accusation under the facts of this case.
We must balance the probative value of the evidence Lopez sought to introduce against the risk its admission entailed. Paul testified that Lopez forced Paul to perform oral sex on Lopez. According to the testimony at trial, the events occurred when Paul and Lopez were alone, so there were no other witnesses to corroborate either person's story. Further, the State had no additional evidence of Lopez's guilt. The trial was the prototypical "swearing match" between Lopez and Paul, so there was a heightened need on Lopez's part to impeach Paul's credibility.
But the evidence that Lopez sought to admit would not have achieved that goal. Lopez attempted to introduce evidence that Paul had previously falsely accused his mother of physical abuse. First, the prior accusation was never shown to be false. The record reflects that the Texas Department of Human Services "closed" the case and "ruled out" the abuse. But their file also indicates that the "likelihood of maltreatment is moderate" and that the case was closed because the mother was seeking counseling. This could simply indicate a lack of evidence to prove the allegation at that time, or an administrative decision that, despite the allegation's validity, the parties would best be served by closing the case.
In addition, the allegation that Paul's mother had physically abused him by throwing him against a washing machine has almost nothing in common with Paul's accusing Lopez of forcing Paul to perform oral sex on Lopez. Without proof that the prior accusation was false or that the two accusations were similar, the evidence fails to have any probative value in impeaching Paul's credibility in this case. For these same reasons, the risk that this evidence would unduly prejudice and confuse the jury was high.
Although Paul's credibility was a crucial issue, we conclude that the Confrontation Clause does not demand admissibility of this evidence. Its probative value was extremely low, and the risk that its admission would confuse the jury was high.
Since the evidence Lopez sought to admit was inadmissible under Rule 608(b), and the Confrontation Clause does not mandate its admissibility, we conclude the trial court properly refused to allow admission of the evidence.
We reverse the court of appeals and remand this case to that court to consider Lopez's second point of error.
DATE DELIVERED: May 3, 2000
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1.Lopez v. State, No. 04-96-00343-CR (Tex. App. -- San Antonio 1997) (not designated for publication).
2.Lopez v. State, No. 97-1193 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (not designated for publication).
3.Lopez v. State, 989 S.W.2d 402 (Tex. App. -- San Antonio 1999).
4.U.S. Const. Amend. VI; Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 315, 94 S.Ct. 1105, 1110, 39 L.Ed.2d 347 (1974).
5.Davis, 415 U.S. at 315, 94 S.Ct. at 1110.
7.Hoyos v. State, 951 S.W.2d 503, 510 (Tex. App. -- Houston [14th Dist.] 1997), aff'd, 982 S.W.2d 419 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
8.Castillo v. State, 939 S.W.2d 754, 758 (Tex. App. -- Houston [14th Dist.] 1997, pet. ref'd), quoting Hodge v. State, 631 S.W.2d 754, 758 (Tex. Crim. App. [Panel Op.] 1982).
9.Lagrone v. State, 942 S.W.2d 602, 613 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997).
10.Carroll v. State, 916 S.W.2d 494, 501 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996).
11.Previously the Texas Rules of Criminal Evidence.
12.719 S.W.2d 164, 173 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985) (op. on reh'g).
13.Id. at 178.
14.841 S.W.2d 407 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992).
15.Id. at 410-11.
16.Ex parte Loyd, 580 So.2d 1374 (Ala. 1991); Covington v. State, 703 P.2d 436 (Alaska App.), rev'd on other grounds, 711 P.2d 1183 (Alaska 1985); State v. Hutchinson, 141 Ariz. 583, 688 P.2d 209 (Ariz.App. 2d Div. 1984); West v. State, 290 Ark. 329, 719 S.W.2d 684 (Ark. 1986); People v. Hurlburt, 166 Cal.App.2d 334, 333 P.2d 82 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1958); People v. Sheperd, 37 Colo.App. 336, 551 P.2d 210 (Colo. 1976); State v. Kelley, 229 Conn. 557, 643 A.2d 854 (Conn. 1994); Smith v. State, 259 Ga. 135, 377 S.E.2d 158 (Ga.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 825 (1989); State v. Schwartzmiller, 107 Idaho 89, 685 P.2d 830 (Idaho 1984); People v. Alexander, 116 Ill.App.3d 855, 72 Ill.Dec. 338, 452 N.E.2d 591 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 1983); Little v. State, 413 N.E.2d 639 (Ind.App. 2d Dist. 1980); State v. Barber, 13 Kan.App.2d 224, 766 P.2d 1288 (Kan.App. 1989); State v. Cox, 298 Md. 173, 468 A.2d 319 (Md. 1983); Comm. v. Bohannon, 376 Mass. 90, 378 N.E.2d 987 (Mass. 1978); People v. Evans, 72 Mich. 367, 40 N.W. 473 (Mich. 1888); State v. Caswell, 320 N.W.2d 417 (Minn. 1982); State v. Anderson, 211 Mont. 272, 686 P.2d 193 (Mont. 1984); Miller v. State, 105 Nev. 497, 779 P.2d 87 (Nev. 1989); State v. Ellsworth, 142 N.H. 710, 709 A.2d 768 (N.H. 1998); State v. Johnson, 102 N.M. 110, 692 P.2d 35 (N.M.App. 1984); People v. Mandel, 48 N.Y.2d 952, 401 N.E.2d 185, 425 N.Y.S.2d 63 (N.Y. 1979); State v. Baron, 58 N.C.App. 150, 292 S.E.2d 741 (N.C.App. 1982); State v. Kringstad, 353 N.W.2d 302 (N.D. 1984); State v. Boggs, 63 Ohio St.3d 418, 588 N.E.2d 813, 816-18 (Ohio 1992); Woods v. State, 657 P.2d 180 (Okla. Crim. App. 1983); State v. Nab, 245 Or. 454, 421 P.2d 388 (Or. 1966); State v. Izzi, 115 R.I. 487, 348 A.2d 371 (R.I. 1975); State v. Boiter, 302 S.C. 381, 396 S.E.2d 364 (S.C. 1990); State v. Sieler, 397 N.W.2d 89 (S.D. 1986); State v. Warner, 79 Utah 510, 13 P.2d 317 (Utah 1932); Clinebell v. Comm., 235 Va. 319, 368 S.E.2d 263 (Va. 1988); State v. Demos, 94 Wash.2d 733, 619 P.2d 968 (Wash. 1980).
17.Hurlburt, 333 P.2d at 85; Nab, 421 P.2d at 390; Izzi, 348 A.2d at 372.
18.Hurlburt, 333 P.2d at 85; Nab, 421 P.2d at 391.
19.Nab, 421 P.2d at 391.
20.Lynn Hecht Schafran, Women in the Criminal Justice System; Writing and Reading About Rape: A Primer, 66 St. John's L. Rev. 979, 1013 (1993).
21.Boutwell, 719 S.W.2d at 177.
22.1 Goode, Wellborn & Sharlot, Texas Practice: Guide to the Texas Rules of Evidence: Civil and Criminal § 608.1 (Supp. 1998).
23.Id. at § 608.1 (1993).
24.Boggs, 588 N.E.2d at 816-17.
26.Lagrone, 942 S.W.2d at 613.