CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Defense attorneys and prosecutors say a state Supreme Court ruling will change how some sexual assault cases are handled.
The ruling involved Karl Kornbrekke, who was convicted of raping a woman in a Concord motel. In overturning his conviction, the court said Kornbrekke’s lawyer should have been allowed to question the victim about a previous incident in which she accused another man of rape.
The court found that when previous retracted accusations are similar and reasonably close in time to the case at hand, a defendant should have the right to bring them up in court.
“Given the nature of this case – a sexual assault case with no eyewitnesses other than the complainant and the defendant, the complainant’s testimony, and thus her credibility is crucial,” wrote Justice Gary Hicks.
Though broad examination of a victim’s sexual history is banned by the state’s rape shield law, the ruling means that similar prior accusations that were false, or may have been false, can be discussed in court.
“We’re not trying to cross-examine her about having sex with someone; we’re trying to cross-examine her about lying about rape,” said Ted Lothstein, who argued the case before the appeals court.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers said the decision clarifies a murky standard on whether such evidence should be allowed at trial.
“It’s certainly going to be a tool for defense attorneys, because any area you can cross-examine on, especially as it relates to credibility, on a criminal case … is important,” said Chuck Temple, who runs the criminal defense clinic at Franklin Pierce Law Center.
Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway called the opinion reasonable and said it would not affect most strong cases.
“Will it in fact make it a little more difficult for victims in this state? Yes,” he said. But it is important to ensure that both defendants and complainants get a fair trial.
Grace Mattern, director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the ruling could make it harder for prosecutors to persuade rape victims to move ahead with charges if they have made prior allegations. Mattern said it’s not unusual for abuse victims to recant accusations, and those retractions don’t necessarily mean the accusations were false.
Kornbrekke was accused of raping a woman he had known for a few days. He argued that the sex was consensual but the woman became angry afterward in part because he refused to fill a prescription for her.
In 1997, the woman accused another man of raping her but later retracted the accusation. In that case, there was some indication the woman had told the man she would drop the charges if he gave her drugs.
The Kornbrekke case went to trial twice; the first ended in a hung jury. Merrimack County Attorney Dan St. Hillaire said his office has not decided whether to hold a third trial. Kornbrekke has served 18 months of his 31/2- to 7-year sentence.
Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.cmonitor.com