Can a defendant introduce evidence that a complaining witness who alleges the defendant has committed a sexual battery on her has previously made similar allegations against defendant and then recanted those earlier allegations?
In an extremely important appellate decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida in Carlisle v. State found that Florida law allows a defendant to cross-examine the complaining witness about her prior allegations of sex abuse and her recantation of those charges and that the defendant can testify about the witnesses withdrawing of the earlier sex charges against him.
This decision is based upon the defendant’s fundamental right to confront and cross-examine witnesses under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 16, of the Florida Declarations of Rights which includes the right to show the witness is biased and has a motive to lie.
The court cited a leading Florida Supreme Court decision Pantoja v. State of Florida, 59 So.3d 1092 (Fla. 2011), which held that in order to use this form of impeachment (1) the prior sex allegations that were recanted by the complaining witness were made against the defendant not a third party, (2) the manner of abuse in the original complaint was similar to the manner of abuse in the instant charges, and (3) the police acted on the complaining witness’ initial allegations showing the alleged victim knew what effect her current allegations would have on the defendant. These facts supported Carlisle’s allegations that the victim had a motive to lie about the abuse to gain attention or avoid punishment.
This case stands for the legal proposition that an accused has the right to cross-examine a witness regarding an alleged false accusation and prior withdrawal of the accusation against the defendant as this evidence tends to reveal motive, bias or prejudice of the witness/accuser.