Olden v. Kentucky - 488 U.S. 227 (1988)
U.S. Supreme Court
Olden v. Kentucky, 488 U.S. 227 (1988)
Olden v. Kentucky
Decided December 12, 1988
488 U.S. 227
Petitioner and one Harris, who are black, were charged with the kidnaping, rape, and forcible sodomy of Starla Matthews, a white woman. In his defense, petitioner asserted that he and Matthews had engaged in consensual sex, an account corroborated by several witnesses. Matthews' story was corroborated only by the testimony of one Russell. Petitioner claimed that, at the time of the incident, Matthews and Russell had been engaged in an extramarital affair, and that she had lied to Russell to protect that relationship. In order to show that Matthews had a motive to lie, petitioner wanted to introduce evidence that Matthews and Russell were living together at the time of the trial. However, the trial court granted the prosecutor's motion to keep such evidence from the jury, and sustained the prosecutor's objection when the defense attempted to cross-examine Matthews about the matter after she had testified that she was living with her mother. The jury acquitted Harris of all charges and found petitioner guilty only of forcible sodomy. On appeal, petitioner claimed, inter alia, that the court's failure to allow him to impeach Matthews' testimony deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The Court of Appeals of Kentucky upheld the conviction. While acknowledging the relevance of the testimony, it found that the probative value of the evidence was outweighed by the possibility of prejudice against Matthews that might result from revealing her interracial relationship to the jury.
Held: Petitioner was denied his right to confront the witnesses against him, and, considering the relevant factors enumerated in Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U. S. 673, that error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Matthews' testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case. Her account was directly contradicted by petitioner, and was corroborated only by the testimony of Russell, whose impartiality may have been impugned by evidence of his relationship with Matthews. In addition, as the jury's verdicts show, the State's case was far from overwhelming.
Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.