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Rape Shield Law- Are There Limits?

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The Rape Shield Law protects a victim from being cross-examined regarding prior sexual exploits, but there are limits to this rule.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Sexual Assault Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Generally, the victim or accuser may not be questioned regarding prior sexual allegations.  They may, however, be questioned regarding prior consensual sexual episodes with the accused to show that the instant allegations are false and it was consensual.  The Rape Shield Law in PA provides as follows:

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3104 Evidence of victim's sexual conduct

(a) General rule.--Evidence of specific instances of the alleged victim's past sexual conduct, 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 under this chapter 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.

However, several courts have determined that because allegations of past false accusations of sexual assault are not evidence of past sexual conduct, the Rape Shield Statute would not bar admission of evidence of prior recanted accusations of molestation in prosecution for statutory rape.   That is, a prior false accusation of rape is relevant on the issue of the complaining rape victim's credibility.  But, typically, the defendant charged with sexual assault must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a complaining witness's prior accusations of sexual assault were knowingly false before such evidence is admissible.

There are as many examples of false accusations of rape, molestation and sexual abuse as there are true ones.  If you've been charged or are being investigated for a sexual offense, do not talk to the police without a lawyer.  Contact the experienced team at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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