Rape Shield Laws
What Are Rape Shield Laws?
Rape shield laws expressly prohibit or limit the use of evidence of a victim's past sexual history to undermine that victim's credibility. These laws areintended to protect victims from invasions of their privacy, and to encouragethem to come forward without having to fear that their sexual history will beused against them.
What Evidence Will Be Excluded?
- Evidence regarding the victim's reputation: For example, rape shield laws will prevent a witness from testifying that the victim had a reputation for morally loose conduct.
- Evidence of past sexual behavior not related to the rape accusation at hand: For example, the number of a victim's sexual partners usually cannot be brought in as evidence under the rape shield laws.
What Evidence Can Be Admitted?
The rape shield laws typically do not exclude evidence directly related to the rapecase at hand. Such evidence can include:
- Prior or subsequent sexual conduct with the defendant
- Evidence of specific instances of sexual activity with another party that would show that the rape was not committed by the defendant
- Evidence that semen, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies and/or injuries were not caused by the defendant.
- Evidence that victim did engage in sexual activity if victim testifies that he or she did not engage in any sexual activity during a time period
- Any evidence that the judge finds relevant to the case or that must be admitted to protect the constitutional rights of the defendant: a judge will usually use a balancing test to determine if the potential harm to the victim will outweigh the relevance of the evidence
Can Rape Shield Laws Be Used In Civil Lawsuits?
Rape cases are heard by criminal courts. Most states have rape shield laws in place specifically for criminal law trials.
However, plaintiffs are allowed to sue the defendant in civil courts as well for financial compensation as well. Congress has extended rape shield law protection to federal courts hearing civil cases of rape. A small number of states, either through official legislation or judicial interpretation, have also extended rape shield laws to civil cases. These states include, but are not limited to, Illinois, New Jersey and Nevada.
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Last Modified: 07-10-2012 11:42 AM PDT
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