Criminal Sexual Conduct - Michigan Supreme Court to Decide Important Legal Issues

Important issues that will control how Criminal Sexual Conduct cases are handled are being decided by the Michigan Courts in 2024.

On January 11, 2024, the Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of People of the State of Michigan v. Karl Derrell Butler, Docket No. 165162.

The case involves the question of when and under what circumstances a person accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan will have the right to show evidence that their accuser falsely accused someone else of a Rape or Sexual Assault in the past.

As a Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Defense Attorney, Brian J. Prain of Prain Law, PLLC has addressed this important issue several times in previous articles. For example, see our article entitled Criminal Sexual Conduct - When the Accuser Has Falsely Accused Before.

If you are accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC for short) anywhere in the United States will all of our sacred Constitutional rights and protections, you might think it would be obvious that you should automatically have the right to show that your accuser may have falsely accused someone in the past, especially considering everything that is at stake for you.

But unfortunately, that’s not the way it works under Michigan law. Under Michigan law, when there is information suggesting the accuser has falsely accused someone of Sexual Assault before, the burden is on the Defendant to take certain actions, and then a Judge will decide whether or not the Defendant has the right to introduce evidence of the alleged prior false allegation at trial.

Before going further, it should be briefly noted that in Michigan, there are four basic Degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct: First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct, and Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. The procedures applicable to dealing with prior false allegations of the accuser could be relevant for a Defendant accused of any Degree of CSC in Michigan.

The procedure can be complicated, but essentially, here are the steps:

  • First, the Defendant accused of CSC must bring a Motion setting forth their reasons for believing their accuser has accused someone else of Rape or Sexual Assault before, and for believing that prior allegation was false. The purpose of this Motion is to demonstrate the relevance of this evidence. Of course, the Prosecution has an opportunity to respond to the Motion, and there may be a hearing where the Attorneys further discuss their arguments before the Judge.

  • Then, the Judge takes action on the Motion. The Judge decides whether the Defendant has set forth a “sufficient showing of relevancy” in terms of the Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation (i.e., the right to question their accuser at trial on cross-examination about topics concerning their credibility).

  • Finally, if the Judge decides the Defendant has made a “sufficient showing of relevancy,” then the Judge will conduct a hearing where witnesses will testify, but which is closed to the public (called an in camera evidentiary hearing). The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the Defendant will ultimately be allowed, at their Criminal Sexual Conduct trial, to introduce evidence of the prior allegedly false allegation made by their accuser in light of the Defendant’s Constitutional rights, including the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation).

If this sounds a little confusing to you, then you’re probably not alone. In-fact, one of the reasons the Butler decision will be helpful is that even lawyers tend to be confused and often disagree about how this procedure should work. At present, the law simply has not been well defined as to how the procedure should apply and what standards the Judge should be applying at each stage, leading to a lot of confusion. It’s kind of like saying that in order to change the brakes on your car, you first need to make sure you have the proper pads and rotors for the vehicle, and then you need to install them using proper methods – not terribly helpful without more detailed step-by-step instructions.

For example, Michigan appellate Courts have already stated that prior false allegations are relevant essentially because they bear upon the accuser’s credibility in their current allegation, and that someone accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct “should” be permitted to show that their accuser has made false allegations in the past. So you might be thinking “Okay, then what is there left to decide?” And that’s a good question...

It seems like the issue for the Judge to decide has less to do with whether a prior false allegation (assuming it was actually made and was actually false) is “relevant” and more to do with whether or not the prior allegation was in-fact made and if it was made, whether or not it was in-fact false. As you could imagine, the accuser and the Prosecution might disagree about those things. It follows that our appellate Courts have also recognized that admissibility will depend primarily on whether the Defendant accused of CSC produces enough evidence that the prior allegation was in-fact false. But how much evidence of falsity is required? This has been the subject of some debate.

Is a Defendant required to produce “concrete evidence” of falsity? If so, how much is “concrete?” If not, then what is the standard – a preponderance of the evidence? Clear and convincing evidence? Is it enough if the person accused previously simply comes forward and denies committing the alleged past act of Criminal Sexual Conduct? If you’re thinking “Just because they deny it shouldn’t be enough evidence of falsity,” then just remember that our system often prosecutes and imprisons citizens for Criminal Sexual Conduct for up to life based just on an accuser’s word alone. And even if such a denial by the formerly accused is sufficient in some cases to demonstrate falsity, would that change based on whether the formerly accused person acknowledges that a sexual act occurred but was consensual, versus where perhaps they completely deny that any past sexual act ever occurred at all in the first place? What "elements" the Prosecution has to prove depends on what CSC offenses a person is charged with, for example, Criminal Sexual Conduct 1st Degree involves a claim of unlawful sexual penetration with a more serious aggravating factor that required for Criminal Sexual Conduct 3rd Degree.

There are also other questions that remain. In order for a Defendant accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct to introduce evidence of a prior false allegation of sexual assault by the accuser, does there have to be similarity between the current allegations and the prior (allegedly false) allegations? Not to mention, if the Judge determines that the Defendant has met their initial burden of making a sufficient showing to get thein camera evidentiary hearing, then exactly what standard is the Judge supposed to be using to decide ultimate admissibility at that hearing?

Arguably, there needs to be clarification on many issues to give more clear guidance to Defendants accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct, their lawyers, Prosecutors, and Judges. Hopefully, when the Michigan Supreme Court issues its Opinion in the case of People of the State of Michigan v. Karl Derrell Butler will be answered with clarity. Stay tuned for a future update when the Opinion in Butler is released. Prain Law, PLLC remains committed to aggressively defending those accused of Criminal Sexual Conduct in Michigan.


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Prain Law, PLLC is focused only on the types charges featured on our website. This helps us deliver the decisive, effective advocacy for which our clients know us. We only serve individuals currently under investigation or who have a current case pending in court. Our firm does not represent injury victims, defendants who have already taken a plea or have been sentenced, or those seeking to expunge a criminal record. We do not respond to anyone who is not involved in a pending investigation or who has a court case for a type of charge we do not handle, but we wish you the very best of luck.