Olden v. Kentucky
488 U.S. 227, 109 S.Ct. 480, 102 L.Ed.2d 513 (1988)

  • Matthews met Olden and Harris at a bar.  They all left together.
    • Matthews claimed that Olden and Harris fraudulently convinced her to accompany them, then took her to a deserted location and raped her.
    • Olden and Harris claimed everything was consensual.
      • Olden and Harris had three witnesses that agreed with their version of events.
  • Eventually, Harris dropped Matthews off at the home of her boyfriend, Russell.
    • Russell testified that after Matthews was dropped off, she claimed she had been abducted and raped.
  • At trial, Olden and Harris argued that Matthews had concocted the story in order to protect her relationship with Russell, who would have been suspicious when he saw her getting out of Harris’ car in the middle of the night.
    • In order to establish their defense, Olden and Harris attempted to introduce evidence that Matthews and Russell were now living together.
    • The prosecution argued that this evidence was inadmissible because evidence of a victim’s sexual behavior is inadmissible under Kentucky’s rape shield statute.
    • The Trial Judge did not allow the evidence to be admitted.
  • Olden and Harris attempted to cross-examine Matthews at trial about her living arrangements.  She testified that she was living with her mother.
    • This was untrue, she was living with Russell at the time.
    • Olden and Harris were prevented from impeaching Matthews.
  • Strangely, the Trial Court found Olden and Harris innocent of abduction and rape, but found Olden guilty of forcible sodomy.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Olden appealed.
    • The Appellate Court agreed with Olden that the facts of Matthews living arrangements were not covered by the rap shield law.
    • However, they found that the evidence was inadmissible because Matthews was white (and married to someone else), and since Russell was black (and was involved in an extra-marital affair with Matthews), the evidence of their relationship was too prejudicial.
      • FRE 403 says that a court may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that exposure of a witness’ motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right to cross-examination.  That violates the confrontation clause of the 6th Amendment.
      • In this case, a reasonable jury could have doubted Matthew’s credibility if they had know about her relationship with Russell.
    • The US Supreme Court found that a Trial Court may impose reasonable limits on inquiries into the potential bias of a prosecution witness for a number of good reasons.  However, speculation about a jury’s racial biases is not one of those reasons.