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Philadelphia Assault Lawyer – The Rape Shield Law


4/12/2021

When a person is charged with offenses involving allegations of a sexual assault or rape, the criminal defense attorney or the prosecutor representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may attempt to introduce testimony concerning previous sexual assaults of the victim. This is when the Rape Shield Law comes into play.

What is the Rape Shield Law?

The Rape Shield Law was enacted to prevent the introduction of evidence that presents an unwarranted connection between the victims reputation for chastity (meaning refraining from sexual intercourse) and sexual activity. Prior sexual conduct is often irrelevant to a subsequent assault. You often see this evidence in cases involving prostitution or solicitation, where there is evidence that the victim acted promiscuously or placed herself in a situation where an assault could be anticipated.

The statute under which the Rape Shield Law is set forth states the following:

§ 3104. Evidence of victim’s sexual conduct:

Evidence of specific instances of the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct, past sexual victimization, allegations of past sexual victimization, opinion evidence of the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct, and reputation evidence of the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct shall not be admissible in prosecutions of any offense listed in subsection (c) except evidence of the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct with the defendant where consent of the alleged victim is at issue and such evidence is otherwise admissible pursuant to the rules of evidence.
18 Pa.C.S. § 3104(a).

Criminal Defense Attorney and Rape Shield

There are a few common scenarios in which your Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer and you may encounter the application of the Rape Shield Law when it comes to the evidence in the case.

In determining the admissibility of evidence subject to exclusion under the Rape Shield Law, the trial court must consider:
(1) whether the proposed evidence is relevant to show bias or motive or to attack credibility; (2) whether the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect; and
(3) whether there are alternative means of proving bias or motive or to challenge credibility.

The Rape Shield Law cannot be utilized to prohibit relevant, potentially-exculpatory evidence. The Rape Shield Law also cannot be utilized to prohibit evidence that the complainant harbored a bias or hostility towards the defendant or that the complainant had a motive to fabricate the accusation. 

Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer Lauren Wimmer

If you have been charged with assault offenses in Philadelphia, call criminal defense lawyer Lauren A. Wimmer today. Wimmer Criminal Defense is a Philadelphia criminal defense law firm that has handled numerous cases involving all types of assault related charges in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A criminal record can prevent you from obtaining employment, housing, and attending school. Protect your rights with an aggressive criminal defense attorney who knows the law. Call (215) 712-1212 for a free confidential consultation today.