Florida’s Rape Shield law is contained in Fla. Stat. 794.022. Boiled down to its core provisions, in a sexual battery prosecution, a defendant may not introduce evidence of:
- Specific instances of sexual activity by the alleged victim with any person other than the defendant. However, it may be admitted when such evidence may prove that the defendant was not the source of the semen, pregnancy, injury, or disease; or, when consent by the victim is at issue, such evidence tends to establish a pattern of conduct or behavior on the part of the alleged victim which is so similar to the conduct or behavior in the case that it is relevant to the issue of consent, and
- Reputation relating to a victim’s prior sexual conduct or evidence presented for the purpose of showing that manner of dress of the victim at the time of the offense incited the sexual battery may not be admitted into evidence.
There are other provisions in the law relative to the mental capacity of the alleged victim and the use of prophylactic devices, but those provisions are not litigated nearly as often as the two referenced above.
Prior to the enactment of this law, defense attorneys would submit evidence of an alleged victim’s prior relationships under the theory that because the alleged victim had a habit of sleeping around with other men, it was more likely than not that she consented to the sexual behavior engaged. Because an alleged victim faced the possibly of her sex life being made public in a court of law if she were to make an allegation of rape, the theory went that it may have discouraged women from reporting instances of rape. This law tried to balance a defendant’s Constitutional right to confront his accuser and to present his theory of defense with an alleged victim’s right to privacy in her sex life.
Rape Shield Law: Evidence of Prior Allegations of Rape to Cover Up Other Behaviors
In Murphy v. State, 46 Fla. L. Weekly 1020a (Fla. 3d DCA 2021), the Third District Court of Appeal held that under circumstances, the trial court did not unconstitutionally infringe upon defendant’s right of confrontation by prohibiting him from introducing evidence of prior sexual assault allegations purportedly fabricated by victim against another man several years earlier. The reason given by the Court was that the probative force of proffered evidence was attenuated and risk of undue prejudice high. Moreover, the defendant was free to cross-examine victim with the object of revealing any possible ulterior motive or bias or to further adduce reputation evidence and, accordingly, was not precluded from developing theory that victim inculpated him in sexual crime in order to conceal consensual act of intimacy with her boyfriend.
“Murphy was accused of forcibly penetrating an acquaintance while the two were viewing a movie in a bedroom of his home. The State charged him with a single count of sexual battery, in violation of section 794.011(5), Florida Statutes. Prior to trial, the State and defense filed dueling motions in limine directed at the admissibility of a prior report of sexual assault by the alleged victim. Both parties relied upon the deposition testimony of the victim in support of their respective positions.
In her deposition, the victim recounted that, when she was thirteen years old, she became involved in a sexual relationship with a cafeteria worker at her middle school. One evening, a law enforcement officer discovered the pair together in a park and escorted them to the victim’s home. Upon arrival, the officer informed her father of the circumstances. After the officer left, the father became enraged and beat the victim.
Seeking refuge, the victim ran to a nearby laundromat, where she was purportedly approached by an unknown man. After she explained her predicament, he offered to conceal her from her father. Instead, he brought her to a nearby gas station bathroom and forced her to sit on his lap while he fondled her. The victim extricated herself and eventually returned home.
The following day, the victim’s father informed school administrators of her relationship with the cafeteria worker. Law enforcement officers responded to the school to investigate. The victim was interrogated and sought to deflect the focus of the inquiry by disclosing the gas station assault. As a result, a police report was generated and physical evidence was collected, but the assailant was never identified.
Murphy proffered to the trial court he intended to establish the victim fabricated the gas station incident in order to evade discipline at the hands of her father. In support of his position, he suggested that the victim initially reported she had been penetrated in the gas station restroom, but later claimed she had only been inappropriately touched. He contended the purported fabrication was relevant to his theory of defense, which was that the victim had consensual sex with him and then manufactured rape charges to avoid possible repercussions from her boyfriend.” Id.
In this case, the Rape Shield law clearly prohibited Murphy from adducing evidence at trial of the alleged victim’s sexual relationship with the cafeteria worker. However, rules of evidence and admissibility must give way when a defendant’s Constitutional rights are at stake. Murphy argued that his right of Confrontation would be violated if he could not inquire into her sexual behavior because he would then be precluded from developing his theory of defense.
Unfortunately for Murphy, the Court disagreed and held, “…the only value in admitting the proffered evidence would have been to establish that because the victim lied previously, she was more likely to have lied in the instant case. Because her “character was not an essential element of the defense or charge,” this type of specific act character evidence has been soundly condemned by bedrock evidentiary principles. Fernandez v. State, 730 So. 2d 277, 282 (Fla. 1999) (“[E]vidence of particular acts of ethical misconduct cannot be introduced to impeach the credibility of a witness. The only proper inquiry into a witness’s character for impeachment purposes goes to the witness’s reputation for truth and veracity.”) As such, Murphy was precluded from inquiring into her prior behavior. Therefore, the trial court did not commit error and Murphy’s 15-year sentence was upheld.
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