Some of the most serious cases in the North Carolina Criminal Justice system are sexual assault cases. During these cases, one of the most important rules for both the Government and for the defense team is what is commonly referred to as the Rape Shield Rule. It is very important, that if you are charged with a sexual assault crime, you have an experienced and knowledgeable legal team behind you. If you have these kinds of charges pending call the Criminal Defense team at Jetton and Meredith today.
WHAT IS THE RAPE SHIELD RULE?
The general answer to this question is that a victim’s prior sexual history is generally NOT admissible in sexual assault trials. This protects victims in North Carolina from having their entire sexual history put before the jury for the purpose of embarrassing or scaring the victim.
ARE THERE ANY EXCEPTIONS?
Yes. The Court may allow evidence of the prior sexual behavior of the alleged victim in four (4) specific instances:
- If the sexual behavior in question was between the victim and the defendant; or
- If the evidence of sexual behavior is offered to show that the act or acts charged were not committed by the defendant; or
- If the evidence of sexual behavior is offered as the basis of expert testimony by a psychological or psychiatric doctor if the opinion is in regards to the fact that the alleged victim fantasized or invented the act or acts alleged; or
- Evidence of a pattern of sexual behavior that is so distinct and mirrors so closely the defendant’s version of the encounter, as to tend to prove consent, or that the victim behaved in such a way that the Defendant believed they consented.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
First, the rule does allow for the defendant to bring up the sexual history between them and the alleged victim. Whether before or after the alleged incident that led to the charges in question.
Second, the Defendant is allowed to talk about the victim’s sexual behavior to show that they were not the one who committed the sexual assault in question.
Third, a doctor can talk about the sexual behavior of the victim when giving expert testimony to show that the victim is making the alleged assault up.
Finally, the Defendant can offer testimony about the victim’s sexual behavior to show that they consented to the sexual act or behaved in such a way that the Defendant could reasonably believe that they consented to the sexual act. It is important to know that when offering this kind of evidence, it must be very detailed. It MUST show a pattern of behavior so unique AND so close to the defendant’s version of what happened to prove that there was consent or behavior that would lead them to believe there was consent.
WHAT EVIDENCE CAN WE USE?
Another important detail of the Rape Shield Rule is what specific kinds of evidence can be used. One of the most difficult restraints posed by the Rape Shield Rule is that you MUST have direct evidence or testimony from someone who participated in the sexual behavior in question, you MAY NOT use opinion or reputation evidence in any way.
It is also important to know how to use this evidence. The Rape Shield Rule also includes procedural rules that make it very important to have an experienced attorney who knows exactly how to enter this kind of evidence into the record and put it before the jury. Failure to follow these procedures could be extremely costly and mean that your trial ends in a mistrial or that you cannot use the evidence at all.
Because the Rape Shield Rule is so powerful and the ramifications of sexual assault trials are so severe, it is vitally important that you speak to a knowledgeable attorney as early in the process as possible. If you or someone you know is under investigation or has been charged with a sexual assault crime, please call the Criminal Defense Team at Jetton and Meredith today!