New Jersey Supreme Court applies Rape Shield Law to bar “vague allegations” regarding rape victim’s past sexual conduct

The New Jersey Supreme Court applied the state’s Rape Shield Law in a recent case and held, as in previous cases, that vague allegations regarding a rape victim’s past sexual conduct are inadmissible at trial.

 

New Jersey’s Rape Shield Law restricts the ability of defendants in sex crimes trials to introduce evidence of the victim’s past sexual conduct and provides detailed procedures that the defendant must follow if he wishes to receive permission to introduce such evidence. Although intended to protect the privacy of rape victims and prevent unwarranted attacks on their moral character, the Rape Shield Law poses a competing threat to the defendant’s constitutional right to confront the person accusing him. Because of this, the courts conduct a highly sensitive balancing process comparing the relevance of the proffered evidence, its necessity to the defense, and its apparent veracity against the potential to humiliate the victim, invade her privacy, and confuse the jury.

 

In the case before the New Jersey Supreme Court, the defendant was found guilty of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a minor. The DNA evidence collected from the victim was insufficient to conduct a complete DNA analysis, but testing did not exclude the defendant. He sought to introduce evidence that another male was the source of the DNA, based on testimony about the victim’s past sexual encounters, but he was unable to produce specific names or the dates when those alleged encounters occurred.

 

This evidence, the court held, amounted to nothing more than the vague allegations and was barred by the Rape Shield Law. As the court explained, any evidence of the victim’s sexual history was irrelevant to the issue of the defendant’s guilt unless the evidence showed that the victim had sex with another man between the time of the alleged assault and the time when her rape kit was taken. The court also found that the evidence had little probative value because there was no clear proof that the alleged prior sexual conduct actually occurred and because the defendant was able to introduce expert testimony regarding the limited nature of the DNA evidence.

 

To learn more about sex crimes in New Jersey, visit www.palumbo-renaud.com/Sex-Offenses.