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Minor's Explicit Instant Messages Inadmissible In Abuse Trial

Justice Anne Patterson, for a unanimous Court in State v. J.A.C. A-102-10 held, "The content of the instant messages written by and to the victim in this case constitutes 'sexual conduct' within the meaning of  N.J.S.A. 2C:14-7(f),  and that content is therefore protected by New Jersey’s Rape Shield Law.  Any probative value of the content of the victim’s messages is substantially outweighed by its prejudice."

Similarly, "[w]hether C.A.’s attempts to impersonate an experienced adult communicated fact or fantasy, the instant messages clearly constituted 'sexual conduct' and the trial court’s determination that the communications fell within the scope of the Rape Shield Law was correct.  The specific content of C.A.’s instant messages is at best minimally relevant to defendant’s effort to demonstrate the child’s motive to lie.  The testimony permitted by the trial court unmistakably established that C.A. implicated defendant in the midst of a confrontation with her parents and teachers that was unprecedented in her young life. The instant messages, however, are not admissible to prove that this victim had a propensity for invention. A ruling permitting detailed questioning about the language of the messages could have a profound and permanent impact on a sixteen-year-old victim, invading her privacy and subjecting her to a humiliating experience without advancing the truth-seeking purpose of a trial.  Such a ruling would divert the attention of the jury from the crimes alleged and would effect considerable prejudice in this case without any corresponding benefit because the contested evidence is of minimal probative value. Consistent with the Legislature’s objective in enacting N.J.S.A. 2C:14-7, and this Court’s analysis in Budis and Garron, the trial court properly excluded the evidence."


Full decision below.