United States Court of Appeals
Confrontation Clause; ineffective assistance
It was unreasonable for the state courts to conclude that a defendant charged with sexual assault of a child was not prejudiced by his attorney’s failure to introduce evidence that the complainant had previously made false accusations of sexual assault.
“We agree that this evidence is probative of Scott’s truthfulness and, indeed, that Mr. Sussman’s counsel was successful in generally discrediting Scott as a witness. However, this evidence does not take the place of the false-accusation evidence that Mr. Sussman sought to introduce.
“None of the above evidence demonstrates that Scott lies specifically about sexual abuse when he feels abandoned by father figures. See Redmond, 240 F.3d at 593 (distinguishing evidence of motive from general attacks on credibility).”
“Also of significant importance to our conclusion is the centrality of Scott’s testimony to the State’s case. See Olden, 488 U.S. at 233 (considering strength of State’s case in evaluating whether Confrontation Clause violation was harmless). Scott’s testimony was the only evidence that Mr. Sussman committed the heinous acts of which he was accused. Even without the false-accusation testimony, the jury acquitted Mr. Sussman on the charges related to exhibiting dangerous materials; it appears, therefore, that the jury harbored doubts as to some aspects of Scott’s testimony. See id. (noting that the jury’s verdict could not be ‘squared with the State’s theory of the alleged crime’).
“We believe that this crucial evidence, which would have given the jury a motive for Scott’s allegations against Mr. Sussman, very well may have tipped the balance in favor of Mr. Sussman.”
Reversed and Remanded.
09-3940 Sussman v. Jenkins
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Crabb, J., Ripple, J.