Massachusetts Rape Shield Laws
Rape Shield Laws: Massachusetts, like all States, has a law that prohibits a defendant from raising a sexual assault victim’s past sexual conduct as part of the defense. Known as the Rape Shield Law, or Rape Shield Statute, the law is designed to protect the privacy of rape victims so they do not fear embarrassment and can come forward with legitimate claims of sexual assault. The law is intended to prevent a general credibility attack of a victim with evidence of his or her promiscuity. Said protections apply to child victims as well as adults.
The Massachusetts Rape Shield Statute is found at M.G.L.A. 233 § 21B, and states:
Evidence of the reputation of a victim's sexual conduct shall not be admissible in an investigation or proceeding before a grand jury or a court of the commonwealth…Evidence of specific instances of a victim's sexual conduct in such an investigation or proceeding shall not be admissible except evidence of the victim's sexual conduct with the defendant or evidence of recent conduct of the victim alleged to be the cause of any physical feature, characteristic, or condition of the victim; provided, however, that such evidence shall be admissible only after an in camera hearing on a written motion for admission of same and an offer of proof. If, after said hearing, the court finds that the weight and relevancy of said evidence is sufficient to outweigh its prejudicial effect to the victim, the evidence shall be admitted; otherwise not. If the proceeding is a trial with jury, said hearing shall be held in the absence of the jury. The finding of the court shall be in writing and filed but shall not be made available to the jury.How can the Rape Shield Law impact my case?
Examples of Rape Shield Law in Action:
- Evidence that victim had sexual intercourse with her boyfriend soon after victim had been raped was not admissible under rape-shield statute;
- Evidence of 16-year-old victim's prior sexual conduct with her own boyfriend was not admissible on issue of victim's motive to fabricate;
- In prosecution for aggravated rape, exclusion under rape shield statute of prior prostitution convictions of rape complainant were properly excluded under the rape shield statute when they were offered solely to impeach the complainant’s general credibility;
- Defendant not permitted to introduce evidence of specific instances of complainant's prior sexual conduct with defendant;
- Rape complainant's statements containing information about prior sexual assaults was properly excluded;
- Evidence of victim's alleged prior false accusation of sexual misconduct was inadmissible in defendants' prosecution for rape;
- Evidence properly excluded where the defendant's bias theory was too tenuous to be one that he was entitled to pursue on the record he presented
Yes. In some instances, the rape shield statute may conflict with a defendant's constitutional right to present evidence, such as evidence that might lead a jury to find that a witness is lying or otherwise unreliable. In these instances, if the weight and relevance of the proffered evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect on a victim, the statutory prohibition can give way to the constitutional right to representation. In circumstances where a defendant seeks to admit evidence to demonstrate bias on the part of the victim, the defendant must make a plausible showing that the circumstances existed on which the alleged bias is based.
- Where evidence of a complainant's sexual conduct is relevant to show a motive to lie in prosecution for rape, the trial judge must determine whether the weight and the relevance of the evidence to the defense are enough to outweigh its prejudicial effect on the alleged victim to be admit such conduct under the rape-shield statute;
- The rape shield statute does not apply to exclude evidence in the defense of incest charges;
- Evidence of specific instances of prior sexual conduct may be admissible to show the bias of the witness and a possible motive for fabricating the allegations the defendant;
- Defendant charged with rape was entitled to present testimony to show that he did not engage in natural sexual intercourse with victim because he had been told by a friend who had sexual intercourse with the victim that the friend had developed pubic lice, a venereal condition known as “crabs,” as result of the intercourse.
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