Rape victims in Alabama and throughout the country are granted special rights and privileges in both civil and criminal court proceedings. While there has been a big victims’ rights push in recent years to shield victims from having to endure the intense rigors of the courtroom, particularly when they are minors, it is equally important that the accused have a fair trial.
It is an issue our Birmingham sex crimes attorneys take extremely seriously, and a principle we fight vigorously to uphold.
One of the measures victims’ rights advocates have successfully pushed in various states is the “rape shield law.” Essentially, this is legislation that limits a defendant’s ability to cross-examine alleged victims regarding past sexual behavior. In some instances, it may also refer to laws barring the public revelation of a rape victim’s identity.
The Violence Against Women Act in 1994 resulted in a federal rape shield law, and the military has its own, codified in the Military Rules of Evidence, Rule 412. It’s also found in Article 32 of the pre-trial proceedings.
However, there are a fair number of recent cases in which rape shield laws have been successfully challenged by sex crime defense attorneys. One of those was the Connecticut case of State v. Shaw.
According to court records, the 11-year-old victim lived in an apartment with her 15-year-old brother, her mother and her 8-year-old sister. The defendant, the mother’s boyfriend, sometimes stayed there, as did the mother’s oldest daughter, who had her own apartment across town. One night in 2006, around 11 p.m. the eldest daughter was visiting and the boyfriend stopped by, intoxicated. He planned to go to a nightclub, but seeing he was drunk, his girlfriend hid his identification.
He finally left, not realizing he did not have the identification with him. The mother then left to drop her older daughter off at home. She then called to see how the younger children were. They said the boyfriend had returned, but failing to find his identification, stormed off. She stayed out for a while longer.
When she returned around 1:30 a.m., she reportedly found her boyfriend in her 11-year-old daughter’s room. While it was dark, she says the shadows indicated sexual movement. She flipped the lights on and saw her boyfriend was unclothed from the waist down. Her daughter’s underwear was around her ankles.
The mother called 911, and the defendant was arrested.
A rape kit was immediately conducted, and it was confirmed the child had sexual tears.
It seemed a relatively straightforward case, and the jury convicted him of sexual assault in the first degree and risk of injury to a child. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail, with 10 years suspended on probation for good behavior.
However, he appealed on the grounds the court improperly excluded admissible evidence under the rape shield statute that violated his constitutional rights to confrontation, to present a defense and due process under both the Fourteenth and Sixth amendments. He claimed that he was not able to refute the inference that he was the cause of the child’s injuries reported by doctor. Three days prior to the alleged assault, he says he walked in on the 11-year-old engaging in consensual sex with her 15-year-old brother.
The state argued there wasn’t an adequate show of relevance, but the Connecticut Supreme Court found otherwise.
Past sexual conduct of a victim that happened years or months earlier may or may not be relevant to a current case, but certainly sexual contact that occurs days or hours before has importance to a case at hand.