Rape Shield Laws

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What Are Rape Shield Laws?

Rape shield laws limit or prohibit the use of evidence of a victim's past sexual history to undermine that victim's credibility. The purpose of rape shield laws is to protect victims from the emotional distress of being cross-examined about their sexual history on the witness stand. Courts have stated that a victim's sexual history has little relevance and the humiliation and fear of being questioned about past sexual conduct will prevent victims of rape to come forward and pursue charges.

What Evidence Will Be Excluded?

Generally, rape shield laws will exclude any evidence that does not pertain directly to the sexual assault case at hand. This evidence can include:

What Evidence Can Be Admitted?

The rape shield laws typically do not exclude evidence directly related to the rape case at hand. Such evidence can include:

Can Rape Shield Laws Be Used In Civil Lawsuits?

Rape cases are generally 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. 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.

Constitutional Challenges to Rape Shield Laws

Many defendants accused of rape have challenged the rape shield laws as a violation of their constitutional rights. Defendants have challenged the law claiming that the rape shield law prevents the defendant’s right to confront their accuser, which is protected by the Sixth Amendment. The courts have rejected this argument since the Defendant is not prevented from confronting their accuser on different grounds that is relevant to the particular incident in question.

The courts have also rejected other constitutional challenges brought by the defendant regarding vagueness of the law and equal protection violations.

What Can You Do If You Have Been Accused of Rape?

Rape is a serious charge with many complexities. A skilled criminal defense lawyer familiar with your state criminal laws can explain your options and help formulate possible defenses.

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Last Modified: 10-03-2014 09:44 AM PDT

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