A Maryland appeals court this week overturned the conviction of a Silver Spring man sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly raping a woman, and ordered that he receive a new trial.
In November 2019, Rudy Gonzalez was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of raping a woman to whom he had promised to provide English language lessons and help obtain citizen information.
He was originally charged with first-degree rape and second-degree rape. The jury found him guilty only of second-degree rape.
On Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned his conviction, ruling that not permitting testimony about Gonzalez’s history of “sexual peacefulness” “seriously compromised” his credibility.
Additionally, the appeals court ruled that two statements by a detective during an interrogation should not have been admitted during trial.
According to court records, Gonzalez allegedly met a woman from El Salvador and offered to help her learn English and find a new job. On the evening of Oct. 8, 2018, the two drank together and the woman “passed out” and woke up in pain.
She was later taken to a hospital and was told she would need surgery because she “had a large wound in her vagina and it was bleeding quite a bit,” according to court records.
She told court officials she was with Gonzalez the night before, but had not consented to intercourse.
Gonzalez allegedly told police they had consensual sex, but stopped when he realized the woman was “not very responsive” and he wondered, “Am I doing the right thing?”
During trial, Gonzalez told the jury the woman was “wide awake the whole time,” according to the appeals decision.
The court did not allow testimony from past partners about Gonzalez’s “sexual peacefulness or sexual propriety” during the trial, saying it was not relevant.
Prosecutors argued that a precedent was set in another Montgomery County case that would not allow character testimony because “a defendant’s reputation for sexual activity, or lack thereof, bore no correlation to the likelihood that they committed the crimes charged.”
That case involved former Montgomery County Public Schools teacher John Vigna, who was convicted in 2017 of sexually abusing several female elementary school students.
In Vigna’s case, the court did not allow former colleagues to testify about his “history of appropriate behavior with students.” In March, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Vigna’s request to consider overturning his conviction.
The appeals court ruled in Gonzalez’s case, however, that the witnesses’ testimony was relevant and admissible, and that not allowing it may have affected Gonzalez’s ability to receive a fair trial.
The appeals court also ruled that some statements made by a detective during an interrogation of Gonzalez should not have been admitted. The comments generally referred to Gonzalez’s credibility and truthfulness.
“Under the circumstances, where credibility was the [linchpin], and especially in combination with the exclusion of the character trait evidence, we cannot be certain that the prejudice was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” the decision said.
The appeals court decision said Gonzalez should get a new trial.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com