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Olden v. Kentucky Case Brief Summary | Law Case Explained

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Olden v. Kentucky | 488 U.S. 227 (1988)

Sexual assault cases require extreme sensitivity by a trial court. The defendant’s right to a fair trial, including the right to confront the accuser, is important. But the court also must be sensitive to the complainant. How does a court balance the rights of the defendant while being fair to the complainant? The United States Supreme Court addressed this issue in Olden versus Kentucky.

Starla Matthews, a white woman, drove to a nearby town to give a Christmas present to Bill Russell, an African American man. Matthews and Russell, who each were married to other people at that point, were having an affair. After she gave Russell the present, Matthews went to a bar. At some point thereafter, she had sex with James Olden, Russell’s half-brother with whom he had a bad relationship. Matthews reported to police that Olden and three other men had raped her. Olden admitted having sex with Matthews but claimed it was consensual. Olden was charged with sexual assault offenses together with Charlie Harris, whom Matthews accused of holding her down while Olden assaulted her.

At Olden’s jury trial, the prosecution called Matthews and Russell as witnesses. Matthews testified that Olden alone had sexually assaulted her, thus offering a different version of events than her statement to police, when she claimed he had been raped by Olden and three other men. Russell testified that, on the day in question, Matthews came to his home and told her that she had just been raped by Olden and Harris.

Olden’s defense was that Matthews was falsely claiming sexual assault because she didn’t want Russell to learn that she had engaged in consensual sex with his half-brother Olden, with whom he had a strained relationship. Toward that end, Olden’s counsel attempted to cross-examine Matthews about the fact that she lived with Russell by the time of trial. By then, the two had separated from their respective spouses and were cohabitating. On direct examination, Matthews had falsely testified that she was living with her mother. The trial court refused to allow Olden to cross-examine Matthews about living with Russell. The jury convicted Olden, and he was sentenced to prison.

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On Olden’s appeal, the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed Olden’s conviction.

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