Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Mitchell

Supreme Court of Montana

August 6, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
ROBERT MATTHEW PAUL MITCHELL, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 17, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. DDC-15-284c Honorable John A. Kutzman, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Kristen L. Peterson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Joshua A. Racki, Cascade County Attorney, Jennifer Quick, Matthew Robertson, Deputy County Attorneys, Great Falls, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 A jury in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, found Robert Mitchell (Mitchell) guilty of sexual intercourse without consent (SIWC). The District Court sentenced Mitchell to 60 years' incarceration with 20 years suspended. Mitchell appeals, raising two issues and further arguing cumulative error. We affirm.

         ¶3 When K.S. was fourteen years old, her father became angry with her after he saw a Facebook message from another girl to K.S. In that message, the girl said she loved K.S. K.S. told her father she loved the other girl too and told him she was bisexual. K.S.'s father became upset about K.S.'s sexual orientation, and the two got into an intense argument. During the argument, K.S.'s father asked K.S. why she was acting out: Had someone sexually abused her? K.S. responded yes, her older cousin Mitchell had been sexually abusing her for years.

         ¶4 Thereafter, K.S. reported the abuse to police officers, and, in June 2015, the State charged Mitchell with three counts of SIWC. The State alleged Mitchell started abusing K.S. in 2008 when Mitchell babysat her and subsequently sexually assaulted her countless times. At Mitchell's trial, the District Court permitted Mitchell to explain that K.S. and her father were intensely fighting when K.S. first reported the sexual abuse, but prohibited Mitchell from disclosing that the fight was about K.S.'s sexual orientation. K.S. testified at trial and, over Mitchell's objection, the District Court permitted K.S. to read a Facebook post to the jury that she wrote after she disclosed the sexual abuse. The jury found Mitchell guilty of one count of SIWC and acquitted him of the other two counts. Mitchell appeals his conviction, raising two issues and further arguing cumulative error.

         ¶5 Mitchell first argues the District Court improperly excluded evidence that K.S. and her father were arguing about K.S.'s sexual orientation when K.S. first reported Mitchell abused her. Mitchell's defense theory was that K.S. fabricated the accusations against him to take the attention away from herself during the argument about her sexual orientation with her Father. To prove his defense to the jury, Mitchell asserts he needed to show the argument was over K.S.'s sexual orientation-a topic of "such magnitude and negative emotional impact for K.S. that it plausibly could have motivated K.S. to fabricate serious abuse allegations to deflect her father's attention away from the argument and quell his outrage." Mitchell reasons the jury could only understand the significance of the argument and K.S.'s motivation to lie if it knew the argument was about K.S.'s sexual orientation. Accordingly, Mitchell asserts the District Court compromised his constitutional right to present evidence in his own defense by not allowing Mitchell to present evidence that K.S. and her father were arguing about K.S.'s sexual orientation.

         ¶6 Montana's rape shield law, § 45-5-511(2), MCA, provides that evidence of a victim's sexual conduct is generally inadmissible in a criminal prosecution. The law is designed to prevent the defendant's trial "from becoming a trial of the victim's prior sexual conduct" and to protect victims from "harassing or irrelevant questions concerning their past sexual behavior." State v. Colburn, 2016 MT 41, ¶ 22, 382 Mont. 223, 366 P.3d 258 (citations omitted). "The statute reflects a compelling state interest in keeping a rape trial from becoming a trial of the victim." Colburn, ¶ 22. The rape shield law exists in tension with a defendant's constitutional right to confront his accuser and to present evidence in his own defense. State v. Walker, 2018 MT 312, ¶ 53, 394 Mont. 1, 433 P.3d 202 (citing U.S. Const. amend. VI; Mont. Const. art. II, § 24). A court may not arbitrarily or mechanically apply the law to exclude evidence; instead, it must strike a balance between the victim's rights under the rape shield law and the defendant's constitutional rights. Walker, ¶ 54. Thus, in determining whether to admit evidence of a victim's sexual orientation, a trial court must strike a balance between the victim's rights under the rape shield law-ensuring the trial does not become a trial of the victim and protecting the victim from harassing and irrelevant questions-with a defendant's constitutional right to confront his accuser and present evidence in his own defense.

         ¶7 In State v. Lindberg, 2008 MT 389, ¶¶ 51-56, 347 Mont. 76, 196 P.3d 1252, we considered whether evidence of a female victim's sexual relationship with another female was admissible under the rape shield law. In that case, the defendant Lindberg reported that he strenuously objected to female victim H.B.'s sexual relationship with her female friend. Lindberg, ¶ 52. Lindberg's defense theory was that H.B. fabricated abuse allegations against Lindberg because of his disapproval of her sexual relationship with a female. Lindberg, ¶ 52. The district court permitted Lindberg to present evidence that H.B. had a close female friend and that Lindberg disapproved of that friendship, but excluded any evidence or testimony regarding the sexual relationship, H.B.'s sexual orientation, or H.B.'s sexual history. Lindberg, ¶¶ 10-11, 52, 54. On appeal, Lindberg argued the district court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony, "claiming that an understanding of the nature of H.B.'s relationship with [another female] was crucial to his defense so that the jury could fully understand the tension between him and H.B. and why H.B. would have been so outraged by Lindberg forbidding th[e] relationship." Lindberg, ¶ 54.

         ¶8 We affirmed the district court's exclusion of evidence of H.B.'s sexual orientation under the rape shield law. Lindberg, ¶ 56. We noted the district court struck an appropriate balance between H.B.'s rights under the rape shield law and Lindberg's constitutional rights-it provided Lindberg with the "opportunity to expose H.B.'s alleged motivation to fabricate the charges based on his disapproval of H.B.'s relationship with [her female friend], but also correctly reasoned that evidence of the sexual nature of that relationship was irrelevant, especially in light of the rape shield law." Lindberg, ¶ 56.

         ¶9 We conclude the District Court similarly struck an appropriate balance between K.S.'s rights under the rape shield law and Mitchell's constitutional rights in this case.[1]By prohibiting Mitchell from inquiring about K.S.'s sexual orientation, the court protected K.S.'s rights under the rape shield law by ensuring the trial would not become a trial about K.S. and protecting K.S. from harassing and irrelevant questions. The District Court also protected Mitchell's constitutional rights by providing him with the opportunity to expose K.S.'s alleged motivation to fabricate the allegations by explaining that K.S. and her father were arguing about a Facebook message from another child. The court permitted Mitchell to emphasize the intense nature of the argument-Mitchell could describe K.S.'s father as "livid" and could "cross-examine [K.S.] until [his] heart's content about how angry [K.S.'s father] was." Thus, Mitchell had the opportunity to confront ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.