Sixth Circuit Splinters on Michigan Rape-Shield Statute

Yesterday, in Gagne v. Booker, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit splintered along unusual lines over the application of Michigan’s rape-shield statute to exclude evidence relating to the complaining witness’ prior sexual conduct with the defendant. Lewis Rodney Gagne was accused of gang raping his ex-girlfriend and sought to introduce evidence that she had consented to rough, group sex with Gagne and other men on at least one prior occasion. The trial court refused to admit this evidence due to Michigan’s rape shield law. In his habeas petition, Gagne claimed the trial court’s decision violated his constitutional right to present an effective defense. The distrcit court granted Gagne habeas relief and a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed (then with an amended opinion). Sitting en banc, the Sixth Circuit reversed, 11-5.

What makes this decision particularly interesting is the procedural posture of the case, the appeal of a denial of a writ of habeas corpus, as the Sixth often splits along ideological lines in habeas cases. Here, however, the judges did not split along traditional ideological lines. Chief Judge Alice Batchelder delivered the opinion of the court denying habeas relief with an opinion for a seven judge plurality. Judges Boggs, Gibbons, Sutton, Cook, McKeague, and Griffin joinedthe Chief Judge. Judge Moore concurred in the judgment only, joined by Cole and Clay, as did Judge White. Judge Kethledge dissented, joined by Judges Martin, Norris, Rogers and Stranch.