Michigan v. Lucas, 500 U.S. 145 (1991)
In Lucas, the Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to Present Defense evidence may be forfeited by his failure to follow procedural rules.
Charged with sexual assault, Lucas announced at the beginning of trial that he intended to prove that he had a prior sexual relationship with the complainant in order to support his claim that she had consented on this occasion. Under Michigan’s ‘‘rape-shield’’ statute, however, evidence of the complainant’s prior sexual activity with the defendant is admissible only if the defendant reveals his intent to present such evidence well in advance of the trial. Since Lucas gave no advance notice, the judge excluded the evidence, and Lucas was convicted. The state appeals court reversed, reasoning that the exclusion of relevant evidence violated Lucas’s right to present a defense.
The Supreme Court reversed that decision by a vote of seven to two. The Court agreed, as it had in Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973), that Lucas had a right to present relevant evidence. The Court concluded, however, that Michigan had valid reasons to require rape defendants to give advance notice of their intent to introduce evidence of complainants’ prior sexual activity and that the evidence could be excluded for failure to provide that advance notice. Lucas, therefore, is one in a series of cases, including Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), and Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400 (1988), holding that a defendant’s right to present a defense does not insulate him or her from reasonable procedural rules designed to prevent unfair surprise to the prosecution.
DAVID A. MORAN
References and Further Reading
- Westen, Peter, Confrontation and Compulsory Process: A Unified Theory of Evidence for Criminal Cases, Harvard Law Review 91 (1978): 567.
Cases and Statutes Cited
- Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973)
- Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400 (1988)
- Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970)
See also Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973); Defense, Right to Present; Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400 (1988)