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WI Supreme Court Declares That an Unprosecuted Accusation of Sexual Assault Did Not Become an "Untruthful Prior Allegation" That Could be Used to Impeach the Victim at the Trial

 

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a victory for crime victims. It reinforces the rule that, in a sexual assault case, the child victim should not be the one on trial," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

 

MADISON - In a decision issued earlier today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that a child victim's accusation of sexual assault that went unprosecuted, and which was denied by the alleged assailant, did not become a "prior untruthful allegation" that could be used to impeach the victim at the subsequent trial of a different man she accused of sexual assault.  The decision in State v. Jim H. Ringer, 2008AP652-CR, reversed contrary decisions of both the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Barron County Circuit Court, and now allows the continued prosecution of Ringer for "repeated sexual assault of a child."

 

Ringer was charged with repeated sexual assault of his 12 year old adopted daughter.  Prior to trial his attorney asked the circuit court to be allowed to introduce into evidence the fact that, two years before Ringer's alleged offenses, the girl had accused her biological father of sexual assault over a two week period of time.  The biological father had made a series of somewhat evasive statements that were both admissions and denials.  The earlier assaults had occurred in Rusk County, and the district attorney for that county had declined to prosecute because of concerns about proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, not because of doubting the victim's credibility.  The biological father's statements were that he didn't remember whether or not there was sexual contact while he and his daughter slept in the same bed during weekend visitation, but regardless it was not intentional or for sexual gratification.

 

The circuit court held that the Rape Shield Law exception for false prior accusations under Wisconsin law had been met, because a reasonable jury could find the prior accusation false if it believed the biological father's denials.  The Wisconsin Department of Justice and Barron County District Attorney filed a pretrial appeal to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's decision.  The Department of Justice then petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear the case.

 

The supreme court decided that even though the child's accusation against her biological father did not result in a prosecution, and he denied most of it, these facts did not show that her accusation was untruthful.   The court also stated that even though a jury generally can decide which witnesses to believe, no reasonable jury could have believed that the prior allegations in this case were untruthful.

 

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a victory for crime victims," said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "It reinforces the rule that, in a sexual assault case, the child victim should not be the one on trial."

 

The case will now be sent back to the Barron County Circuit Court, where Ringer will stand trial for sexual assault of the child.

 

The decision of the supreme court may be found at the court's website:  http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=51839

 

The Barron County District Attorney's Office litigated the case in the circuit court.  The Wisconsin Attorney General represents the State in all felony appeals in both the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Assistant Attorney General Michael Losse represented the State in this case in both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.