Michigan v. Lucas (90-149), 500 U.S. 145 (1991)
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No. 90-149


[May 20, 1991]

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.


1 The Court of Appeals does rely on People v. Williams, 95 Mich. App. 1, 289 N. W. 2d 863 (1980), rev'd on other grounds, 416 Mich. 25, 330 N. W. 2d 823 (1982), and in that case, the Court of Appeals does refer to the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and cross- examination. 95 Mich. App., at 5, 289 N. W. 2d, at 864. The Sixth Amendment provides in relevant part: "In all criminal prosecutions, the ac- cused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." U. S. Const., Amdt. 6. The right of cross-examination is derived from the Sixth Amendment's language guaranteeing the right of the ac- cused to confront the witnesses against him. Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973). The Sixth Amendment has been held applicable to the States. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400 (1965).

2 The Court's holding is summarized in the following portion of its opinion:

"At the start of trial, defendant moved for the introduction of evidence of the prior sexual relationship between defendant and complainant. Based solely upon the failure of defendant to comply with the notice provision of subsection 2 of the rape shield statute, MCL 750.520j; MSA 28.788(10), the trial court, without holding an in camera hearing to determine the admissi- bility of the proposed evidence, denied defendant's motion. This was clear legal error.

"In People v. Williams, 95 Mich. App. 1, 9-11; 289 NW2d 863 (1980), rev'd on other grounds, 416 Mich. 25 (1982), this Court found the ten-day notice provision and any hearing requirement unconstitutional when ap- plied to preclude evidence of specific instances of sexual conduct between a complainant and a defendant." 160 Mich. App. 692, 694, 408 N. W. 2d 431, 432 (1987) (emphasis added).

The Court then quoted a lengthy excerpt from its earlier opinion in People v. Williams, concluding with this sentence:

"This ten-day notice provision loses its constitutional validity when applied to preclude evidence of previous relations between a complainant and a de- fendant." 160 Mich. App., at 695, 408 N. W. 2d, at 432 (emphasis added).

3 In this case in particular the prosecutor did not claim surprise be- cause most of the excluded evidence had been adduced at the preliminary hearing.

4 The Court of Appeals was careful to distinguish this situation from the situation in Williams in which the four defendants sought to introduce evi- dence of prior sexual conduct between the victim and one of the defendants as evidence that the victim would consent to sex with all of the defendants. The Court of Appeals noted that the Michigan Supreme Court had found "this premise untenable." 160 Mich. App., at 695, 408 N. W. 2d, at 432. The Williams court, like the Court of Appeals here, acknowledged the va- lidity of the notice requirement as applied to "sexual conduct between a complainant and third persons." People v. Williams, 95 Mich. App., at 10, 289 N. W. 2d, at 866; see 160 Mich. App., at 695, 408 N. W. 2d, at 432.

5 "It should be noted that in Illinois, the sanction of preclusion is re- served for only the most extreme cases. In People v. Rayford, the Illinois Appellate Court explained:

" `The exclusion of evidence is a drastic measure; and the rule in civil cases limits its application to flagrant violations, where the uncooperative party demonstrates a "deliberate contumacious or unwarranted disregard of the court's authority." (Schwartz v. Moats, 3 Ill. App. 3d 596, 599, 277 N. E. 2d 529, 531; Department of Transportation v. Mainline Center, Inc., 38 Ill. App. 3d 538, 347 N. E. 2d 837.) The reasons for restricting the use of the exclusion sanction to only the most extreme situations are even more com- pelling in the case of criminal defendants, where due process requires that a defendant be permitted to offer testimony of witnesses in his defense. (Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14 . . . . ) "Few rights are more funda- mental than that of an accused to present witnesses in his own defense." (Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 302 . . . . )' 43 Ill. App. 3d, at 286-287, 356 N. E. 2d, at 1277." Taylor v. Illinois, 484 U. S., at 417, n. 23.