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Top 5 Evidence Cases of 2019: #2

While the rules of evidence rarely are amended (807 had it coming though), they are often interpreted and applied in different ways each year by appellate courts. Looking back on 2019, let's see some of the most significant evidence cases from the year.*


Georgia v. Burns

In this case, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled its prior precedent (Smith) when it comes to prior false accusations.

The precedent "held that, once certain procedural requirements are satisfied, a defendant in a sexual offense prosecution may adduce evidence at trial that the complaining witness has made prior false accusations of sexual misconduct and, further, that such evidence is admissible both to attack the credibility of the victim and as substantive evidence tending to prove that the conduct underlying the charges did not occur." State v. Burns, 306 Ga. 117, 117, 829 S.E.2d 367, 370 (2019). This precedent was based on both a constitutional law and evidentiary law.

The Georgia Supreme Court overruled Smith on the constitutional grounds but upheld it on evidence law. This means that a defendant may introduce evidence of prior false accusation by the victim if it passes a 403 test. (Smith required both a 403 test and a constitutional test-the right to confrontation and present a defense).

One question that is not addressed: does the impeachment evidence come in through 608 as the court of appeals held? Or is it strictly through 403? And if so, can it be used as substantive evidence?

The reason for this question is that the court of appeals held that the trial court misapplied 403 and also that under the Sixth Amendment ("constitutional concerns") it was admissible under 608.

But the GA Supreme Court vacated the reasoning for the "constitutional concerns" but left intact the evidentiary basis (403).

State v. Burns, 306 Ga. 117 (2019)

*Many cases are still on appeal, and no one is endorsing or giving an opinion on the case. Merely that the case was significant when it was handed own.


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