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Arkansas's Rape Shield Law Takes a Hit

Federal Judge Garnett Thomas Eisele, in a ruling in the case of Artie Jackson v. Larry Norris (4:08-cv-03319-GTE), held that Arkansas's Rape Shield Statute violated Jackson's due process rights and vacated Jackson's state court convictions. Jackson was convicted of First Degree Sexual Abuse and Second Degree Sexual Assault of a Minor Child in Pulaski County Circuit Court and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 20 years probation. The only evidence offered against Jackson was the alleged victim's (J.W.) statement. There was no physical evidence nor did Jackson ever admit or confess to the allegations. The trial judge denied Jackson's request to go into the details of how the allegation was made because it contained referenced to J.W.'s sexual activities with another person. Jackson's basic argument was that J.W. made the allegation against him to deflect blame onto Jackson to escape J.W.'s mother anger. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the evidence that Jackson sought to introduce was not relevant to his guilt, Jackson, 368 Ark. at 614. Judge Eisele's well written opinion basically stated that because the only evidence against Jackson was J.W.'s testimony, the proffered evidence was indeed relevant to Jackson's guilt because it could have showed J.W.'s motive to lie. Arkansas's Rape Shield Statute also requires that probative value of the evidence must outweigh any inflammatory or prejudicial nature of the evidence. Ark. Code Ann. 16-42-101(c)(2)(C). Judge Eisele held that the circumstances of the original allegation did pass rape shield and should have been admitted. The trial court's denial of Jackson's request to admit the evidence violated his constitutional rights and his convictions were overturned. Arkansas's Rape Shield laws are not supposed to be a bar to evidence such as this, but trial courts, the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court have continuously applied them so. It will be interesting to see how this decision affects future rulings by both trial court judges and appellate courts.

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