|Concurrence ||Syllabus ||Dissent ||Opinion |
MICHIGAN v. LUCAS
MICHIGAN, PETITIONER v. NOLAN K. LUCAS
Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Marshall joins, dissenting.
Because the judgment entered by the Michigan Court of Appeals in this case was unquestionably correct, I would affirm. The fact that a state court's opinion could have been written more precisely than it was is not, in my view, a sufficient reason for either granting certiorari or requiring the state court to write another opinion. We sit, not as an editorial board of review, but rather as an appellate court. Our task is limited to reviewing "judgments, not opinions." Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842 (1984); see Black v. Cutter Laboratories, 351 U.S. 292, 297-298 (1956); see also K Mart Corp. v. Cartier, Inc, 485 U.S. 176, 185 (1988).
In this case, I am not at all sure that the Michigan Court of Appeals adopted the "per se" rule that this Court describes in its opinion. See ante, at 1, 3, 6, 7. In its per curiam, the state court never uses the word "per se," never mentions the Federal Constitution, [n.1] and indeed, never cites any federal cases. Rather, the Michigan Court of Appeals simply holds that the trial court's preclusion of potentially relevant evidence in reliance on an unconstitutional notice provision in a limited class of rape cases requires a new trial. [n.2] The notice provision at issue here requires a defendant who intends to introduce evidence of a victim's past sexual relations with him to give notice within 10 days after arraignment on the information. Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. 750.520j (1991). As both petitioner and respondent acknowledge, "Michigan appears to be the only State which requires the notice to be filed `within 10 days after the arraignment on the information . . . .' " Brief for Petitioner 38. Other States and the Federal Government simply require that notice be filed at various times before the start of the trial. Ibid.; see Brief for Respondent 29, and n. 24.
Although the Court of Appeals does not explicitly rely on the unduly strict time period ("10 days after arraignment") provided by the statute, it does hold that "the ten-day notice provision" is unconstitutional when used to preclude testimony of a victim's past sexual relationship with the defendant. 160 Mich. App. 692, 694, 408 N. W. 2d 431, 432 (1987); id., at 695, 408 N. W. 2d, at 432, quoting People v. Williams, 95 Mich. App. 1, 11, 289 N. W. 2d 863, 867 (1980), rev'd on other grounds, 416 Mich. 25, 330 N. W. 2d 823 (1982). Because the 10-day requirement, in my view, and possibly in the majority's view, see ante, at 6, is overly restrictive, the use of that notice requirement to preclude evidence of a prior sexual relationship between the defendant and victim clearly provides adequate support for the Court of Appeals' holding that the statute is unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals, however, discusses the second theory more fully than the first, and therefore, I address it as well.
As I read the Court of Appeals' per curiam, as well as its earlier opinion in People v. Williams, in the class of rape cases in which the victim and the defendant have had a prior sexual relationship, evidence of this relationship may be relevant when the defendant raises the defense of consent. The Court of Appeals reasoned that in such a situation, the in camera hearing does not play a useful role; rather, it is likely to become a contest of the victim's word against the defendant's word, with the judge reaching his decision based upon his assessment of the credibility of each, and that decision is better left to the jury. 95 Mich. App., at 9, 289 N. W. 2d, at 866. As the Court of Appeals explained by quoting extensively from Williams, when surprise is not an issue [n.3] because both victim and defendant have had a prior relationship and do not need to gather additional witnesses to develop that information, [n.4] then notice " `in this situation . . . would serve no useful purpose.' " 160 Mich. App., at 695, 408 N. W. 2d, at 432 (quoting Williams, 95 Mich. App., at 10, 289 N. W. 2d, at 867).
The rule that the Michigan Court of Appeals adopts, in which it generally assumes that preclusion is an unnecessarily harsh remedy for violating this statute's particularly strict notice requirement when the defendant and victim have had a past relationship and the defendant is raising the defense of consent, not only is reasonable, but also is consistent with our opinion in Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U.S. 400 (1988). [n.5] Although in Taylor we held that the preclusion sanction was appropriate, we did so because in Taylor it was "plain that the case fits into the category of willful misconduct in which the severest sanction is appropriate." Id., at 417. Of course, in those cases in which there is strong reason to believe that the violation of a rule was designed to facilitate the fabrication of false testimony, an exception to the general rule can be fashioned. I find nothing in the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion in this case that would preclude an exceptional response to an exceptional case. See id., at 416-417 (preclusion may be appropriate if the violation was the product of willful misconduct, or was purposely planned to obtain a tactical advantage). Although the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion may be less precise than it should have been, I do not believe it went so far as to adopt the "per se" straw man that the Court has decided to knock down today.
Because I am convinced that the Court of Appeals correctly held that this unique Michigan statute is unconstitutional, I would affirm its judgment.