Tags: Criminal law, Rape
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Lee Franklin DeLawder was convicted of carnal knowledge of a female under the age of 14 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He filed a petition attacking the judgment under post-conviction procedures, arguing that his constitutional right to cross-examine witnesses was denied during his trial. The hearing court agreed and vacated the judgment, ordering a new trial. The State appealed, and the issues for decision were whether DeLawder's right of cross-examination was violated under the rule of Davis v. Alaska and, if so, whether Davis has retroactive application. On direct appeal, it was held that the trial court did not err in sustaining objections to questions about the prosecuting witness's prior sexual history with other men. This is because consent is not an issue in a carnal knowledge prosecution, and evidence of prior sexual history or reputation for chastity is immaterial and inadmissible as an excuse or justification. This rule was established in Rau v. State and is supported by legal authorities. The trial judge correctly applied this rule in a case of carnal knowledge. The defendant argues that the trial court violated his constitutional right to confront his accusers by restricting cross-examination, but this issue was not necessarily resolved in the previous appeal. Code, Art. 27, § 645A (d) governs collateral attacks. The court must determine if the Davis decision affects the validity of DeLawder's conviction, as it concerns the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
The Supreme Court reviewed the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment in Davis, which guarantees the right of an accused in a criminal prosecution to be confronted with the witnesses against them. The Court held that the denial of effective cross-examination would be a constitutional error of the first magnitude. In DeLawder's case, the defense attempted to discredit the prosecuting witness by revealing her possible biases, prejudices, or ulterior motives in alleging that DeLawder raped her. The defense needed to show that she had engaged in prior acts of sexual intercourse to establish their defense, but the State offered a motion in limine to prevent the defense from questioning or making remarks about the prosecutrix's reputation for chastity. The defense attempted to pursue this point on cross-examination of the prosecutrix but was unsuccessful.
In a statutory rape case, the defense was not allowed to fully cross-examine the victim about her conversations with others and her relationship with her mother. The court ruled that such questioning was irrelevant and inadmissible. However, the court's decision to not allow the defense to fully present their argument of bias or ulterior motive was deemed a constitutional error as it denied the defendant's right to effective cross-examination. The court prioritizes the accused's right to seek out the truth in the process of defending themselves over the prosecutrix's duty to testify without embarrassment or harm to their reputation. The Davis decision has retroactive effect. The order of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County from January 1, 1975, is affirmed, and Montgomery County is responsible for paying the costs.
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