What is Rape Shield Law?
Traditionally laws about criminal sexual conduct were for moral condemnation for women who were not considered “morally upright.” The law allowed for the admission of an accuser’s sexual history as evidence in a rape case.
That means courts considered the complainant’s sexual history as evidence relevant to determining the truthfulness of an allegation. As a result, many sexual abuse complainants that believed they didn’t have a clean record usually opted not to report a sexual assault for the fear that their sensitive or confidential information may get exposed.
This practice continued until a group referred to as the Michigan Women Task Force on Rape created and pushed for the creation and adoption of rape shield laws in Michigan. These laws sought to prevent a sexual assault victims’ sexual history, which is not relevant to the case for which a suspect is charged, from being used to challenge their credibility.
Since the adoption of the rape shield laws in Michigan, its approach has become a common practice in America, with such laws earning the title “Michigan approach” in many legal circles.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the rape shield law.
What is Rape Shield Law?
Michigan rape shield law is outlined under MCL 750.520j.
According to this section, evidence pointing to specific instances of an alleged rape victim’s sexual behavior, opinion evidence of their sexual conduct, or evidence based on the victim’s sexual conduct reputation shall not be admissible under MCL 750.520b to MCL 750.520g. However, there are some exceptions to the inadmissibility of such evidence.
If a judge finds that the proposed evidence is relevant evidence to the case, the court may allow its admission. Nevertheless, the judge will weigh the information and determine if its inflammatory or prejudicial nature outweighs its probative value. If it does not, then the judge can allow it to be admitted as evidence.
Under the provisions of this section, a complainant’s prior sex life may be permissible if it involves:
- The victim’s past sexual conduct with the actor
- Evidence is relevant to a specific sexual act showing the source of disease, semen, or pregnancy
Filling a Motion Regarding: Rape Shield
Under section MCL 750.520j, if a defendant proposes introducing a victim’s prior sexual conduct evidence deemed admissible as outlined in the law, they must file a written motion and offer of proof within 10 days of their arraignment.
After the defendant files the motion, the judge may order an in-camera hearing to determine the admissibility of the evidence. The defense is also at liberty to introduce evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual conduct discovered in the course of a trial, if it qualifies for admission.
Upon filing a motion, the court may order another in-camera hearing to determine its admissibility.
Navigating most of the processes involved in admitting such evidence can be pretty tricky for a layman. Therefore, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to help with your case.
Past Sexual Conduct with the Defendant
Many criminal sexual conduct allegations in Michigan are raised by people that had been in a prior romantic relationship involving sexual acts with their alleged abusers. Such evidence can be very important in building an alleged offender’s defense when navigating such rape cases.
This exemption of past sexual conduct with the defendant is admissible in almost all states in America. Even in states where the statutes do not recognize it as an exemption, the judicial branch in those states has created it.
Admission of a prior sexual relationship with the defendant relies on several assumptions, which may not necessarily be true. For example, it assumes that because individuals had a romantic relationship, rape may not happen as often.
A report published in 2000 by the National Institute of Justice proves, however, that to be untrue. According to the report, over 60% of all adult rapes are perpetrated by former intimates. Such a rule also suggests that sexual crimes committed against a former romantic partner inflicts less psychological pain.
On the contrary, research suggests that acquittance rape tends to inflict more pain on the complainant than a stranger rape would.
According to experts, admission of past sexual relationships as evidence in a rape case has a very high prejudicial effect. While a sexual encounter with the actor is admissible in court, where a suspect faces sex crime charges, it does not guarantee that it will produce the desired results. Yet, it has the potential of significantly influencing the outcome of your case.
In most rape cases involving prior romantic partners, the jurors are oftentimes biased against the complainant. As a result, the rape shield law does not seem to protect individuals who claim to suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a former romantic partner.
On the other hand, the law ensures that the rights of individuals that may be falsely accused of sexual misconduct by their estranged sexual partners are protected.
Evidence is Relevant to Specific Sexual Activity Showing the Source of Disease, Semen, or Pregnancy
In a case where an alleged victim of sexual abuse gets pregnant, contracts a disease, or semen is collected from the alleged assault, past sexual conduct may be allowed as evidence.
With that said, the evidence still has to go through the statutory 10-day window for filing a motion and having the judge rule on its admissibility in an in-camera hearing.
This exception is not unique to Michigan rape shield law. Such laws apply across the USA and are part of the Michigan and multi-state bar exams.
The logic behind the admission of the complainant’s past sexual conduct as evidence to determine the source of disease, pregnancy, or source of semen is that failure to include such evidence would result in the defendant being significantly prejudiced.
When Rape Shield Laws Do Not Apply
There are some rare circumstances where the rape shield laws do not apply.
These exceptions protect the accused from allegations filed by a complainant with a history of falsifying accusations or a motive for falsifying accusations.
When making a ruling in People v. Hackett, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that evidence of specific instances of a complainant’s past sexual behavior may be relevant to trial and, therefore, allowing specific instances of a complainant’s past sexual behavior may preserve a defendant’s right to confrontation is admissible. People v. Hackett, 421 Mich. 338, 365 N.W.2d 120, 1984 Mich. LEXIS 1319.
These instances include if:
● The complainant has falsified allegations of sexual assault in the past
● The evidence provided by the complainant in court is indicative of their bias
● There is compelling evidence to prove the complainant has the motivation to make false allegations
If a defendant has evidence that points to the above circumstances in their alleged crime, their lawyer can file a motion to offer their evidence in court in an attempt to allow the above evidence to come in. Upon filing the motion, the judge may allow admission of that evidence by the defense.
Suppose the evidence submitted by the defense points to the complainant as having had a history of making false allegations of rape against others or has substantive proof of why the complainant may make false allegations. In that case, that evidence may be admissible when examining a complainant for truthfulness.
It’s important to note that judges are very cautious with the evidence allowed in during a rape case. The caution is to ensure that the alleged rape victims’ rights are protected. Therefore, you need to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you in your case.
Federal Rape Shield Law
The federal rape shield law is under Rule 412.
Like state rape shield laws, federal rape shield laws bar criminal defendants from introducing evidence of a victim’s past sexual behavior in a rape case.
Like state rape shield laws, there are exceptions to this federal rape shield rule. Under Rule 412, a complainant’s past sexual activity may be admissible as evidence if it is relevant to prove consent, source of semen, pregnancy, injury, disease, other physical evidence, or if the exclusion of evidence violates the defendants’ constitutional rights.
Criminal Defense Attorney Nicole Blank Becker Can Help You with Your Case
When facing a sexual assault charge, you need a lawyer every step of the way.
If you live in Michigan, or anywhere in the United States, Nicole Blank Becker of Blank Law, PC is the lawyer you need to contact for any rape shield or other sex crimes charge you could be facing.
Nicole has been practicing law for over two decades and has served in Macomb County as the Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit for years. This means that she can look at a case from both sides and different angles, helping her stay ahead of the prosecution’s next step.
Better still, Nicole’s practice is solely focused on sex crimes, meaning she has a deeper insight into sex crimes and is better placed to defend criminal sexual conduct offenses than non-specializing attorneys.
The outcome of your sex-related offense can have a lasting impact on your life. So, if you have a case where the rape shield law is at play, or it involves any type of sex crime, you want to work with the best lawyer to beat your charges.
Contact Nicole Blank Becker and Blank Law, PC at (248) 515-6583, or fill out this online form to book your first free consultation with one of Michigan’s most well respected defense attorneys and get her on your case.