Military Rule Of Evidence 412 DEFENDING MILITARY MEMBERS WORLDWIDE Contact Us!


Mil. R. Evid. 412 limits the extent to which an accused in a sexual assault case can introduce evidence regarding the alleged victim’s prior sexual behavior. The rule, however, carves out three exceptions. Under Mil. R. Evid. 412 (b)(1), the following evidence is admissible:

  • (A) evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior by the alleged victim offered to prove that a person other than the accused was the source of semen, injury, or other physical evidence;
  • (B) evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior by the alleged victim with respect to the person accused of the sexual misconduct offered by the accused to prove consent...; and
  • (C) evidence the exclusion of which would violate the constitutional rights of the accused. In analyzing admissibility, the military judge must first determine whether the evidence is relevant under Mil. R. Evid. 401, and then apply the balancing test under Mil. R. Evid. 412 (c)(3).

Under Mil. R. Evid. 412 (b)(1)(C), the accused has a right to present evidence that is relevant, material, and favorable to his defense. United States v. Banker, 60 M.J. 216 (C.A.A.F. 2004). In applying the rule, the military judge is not asked determine whether the preferred evidence is true, it is for the members to weigh the evidence and determine its veracity. Id.

In determining whether evidence is material, the military judge looks at 'the importance of the issue for which the evidence was offered in relation to the other issues in the case; the extent to which this issue is in dispute; and the nature of the other evidence in the case pertaining to this issue. Banker, 60 M.J at 222 (quoting United States v. Colon-Angueira, 16 M.J. 20, 26 (C.M.A. 1983)). Under the rule, the term favorable is synonymous with “vital.” Id.

Important Cases: Relevance of Extramarital Relationships (Lying to Protect a Relationship)
Evidence of an extramarital relationship can be relevant, material, and favorable to the defense theory of the case when it shows that the alleged victim would lie to protect the relationship. See generally, Olden v. Kentucky, 488 U.S. 227 6 (1988); United States v. Williams, 37 M.J. 352(C.M.A. 1993).

Evidence may also be constitutionally required when the alleged victim has a motive to testify falsely to explain to her boyfriend why she was with another individual. United States v. Sanchez, 44 M.J. 174, 179 (C.A.A.F. 1996).

In a prosecution for rape and sodomy, evidence of an prior extramarital affair of the alleged victim, including her husband’s reaction to it, had a direct and substantial link to the victim’s credibility, a material fact at issue, where the existence of a prior affair may have established a greater motive for the victim to lie about whether her sexual encounter with appellant was consensual, namely a motive to protect her marriage; because the evidence had a tendency to prove or disprove a substantial issue in question, it was both relevant and material; in addition, the probative value of the evidence of the prior affair outweighed the dangers of unfair prejudice where the victim’s credibility was crucial to appellant’s conviction and there was no dispute as to whether the affair occurred, making it unlikely that the evidence would result in a waste of time or lead to a trial within a trial to determine whether past events actually occurred; as such, the evidence of the prior affair was constitutionally required in this case as an exception to MRE 412(a), and the military judge erred when he prevented appellant from presenting a theory that a prior affair made it more likely that the victim would have lied. United States v. Ellerbrock, 70 M.J. 314.

Appellant, who was charged with rape, was entitled to cross-examine the victim, his wife, about her relationship with another man and about her phone call to that man immediately after the underlying rape incident, where appellant wanted to establish that the relationship with the man was a motive for the victim to fabricate the rape allegation and the proposed line of questioning did not involve allegations of sexual behavior that would implicate the exclusionary rule of MRE 412; cross-examination of this man may have established a motive for the victim to fabricate her allegation of rape, and the military judge erred in excluding this cross-examination. United States v. Roberts, 69 M.J. 23

Even assuming that evidence that the victim was previously involved in consensual sexual relations with an enlisted member was relevant in the prosecution of appellant for sexual misconduct with the victim, the confrontation clause did not entitle him to cross-examine the victim about that prior relationship; although the victim’s credibility was in dispute, knowledge of the exact nature of her indiscretion in relation to the other issues in the case was not important where the military judge allowed appellant to present a fairly precise and plausible theory of bias, i.e., that the victim lied to preserve a secret which if revealed could have an adverse impact on her military career, including possibly disciplinary action under the UCMJ; while the victim’s credibility was in contention, it is unclear why the lurid nuances of her sexual past would have added much to appellant’s extant theory of fabrication. United States v. Smith, 68 M.J. 445.

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