RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Complainant’s Prior Allegations

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A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
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Complainant’s Prior Allegations



State v. Manning, 973 A.2d 524 (R.I. 2009). In child molestation case, trial judge did not abuse his discretion when he prohibited defendant from cross-examining the minor complainant regarding her prior allegations of molestation against defendant.


  • While a defendant need not prove the falsity of the prior accusation, he must a least present some indicia tending to show that the prior accusation was false, or he runs the risk of a determination that its probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect. The fact that no criminal charges ever resulted was not sufficient to prove the falsity of victim’s prior allegation.
  • “Significantly, defendant never argued that the prior accusation was relevant to expose any bias, prejudice, or pattern on her behalf.” Id. At 534.



State v. Lynch, 854 A.2d 1022 (R.I. 2004). R.I.S.C. affirmed Trial Court’s refusal to allow questioning of complainant concerning her prior accusation against a neighbor that had resulted in a conviction. The conviction had no relevance with respect to credibility of the complainant as the conviction “conclusively establish[ed] the truthfulness of her accusations.”


State v. Botelho, 753 A.2d 343 (R.I. 2000). Trial court properly precluded defense counsel from questioning witness’ prior allegations of sexual abuse against other men where there was insufficient evidence to show the witness had actually alleged the abuse. Witness had denied making such allegations during voir dire and defense counsel was unable to produce evidence corroborating the allegation.


State v. Pettiway, 657 A.2d 161 (R.I. 1995). Trial Court’s denial of cross-examination as to the complainant’s prior allegations against her mother’s previous boyfriends did not mandate a new trial.


  • While “a cross-examiner should be afforded ample opportunity to develop issues of bias, prejudice, and motivation properly before the jury” mere denial does not automatically mandate a new trial.
  • In this case the defendant’s confession to the crime and the otherwise unrestricted scope of cross-examination rendered the error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.




State v. Oliveira, 576 A.2d 111 (R.I. 1990). Sexual assault charges involving an eight-year-old complainant were reversed because the trial court refused to allow evidence of the complainant’s accusations against two other men. R.I.S.C. reversed, ruling that the complainant’s allegations against other men were relevant towards her credibility, regardless of whether the allegations were proven false or withdrawn.


  • “We believe that evidence of a complaining witness’s prior allegations of sexual assault may be admitted =to challenge effectively the complaining witness’s credibility,’ even if the allegations were not proven false or withdrawn. We have often stated that the credibility of a witness is always in issue. The defendant’s inability to prove that prior accusations were in fact false does not make the fact that prior accusations were made irrelevant.” Id. at 113.
  • A defendant “must be permitted to rebut the inference a jury might otherwise draw that the victim was so naïve sexually that she could not have fabricated the charge.” Id. At 113-14.
  • Oliveira’s general credibility analysis is no longer the rule. See State v. Manning, 973 A.2d 524 (R.I. 2009).




State v. McCarthy, 446 A.2d 1034 (R.I. 1982). The complainant’s allegations of rape against another person that were later withdrawn were relevant at trial and should have been admitted. New trial ordered.

State v. Izzi, 348 A.2d 371 (R.I. 1975). Complainant’s prior false allegations of abuse against hospital attendants were fertile areas for impeachment either directly on cross-examination or by independent evidence.

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