Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Nathaniel Lewis (Defendant) and the victim, Christina Heaslet (the Victim), engaged in sexual intercourse that the Defendant claims was consensual and the victim claims was not consensual. Prior to trial, the Defendant gained access to certain diary pages of the victim that could have undermined the victim’s credibility.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. While rape shield laws prevent an accused from introducing evidence of the victim’s past sexual history or reputation, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) requires that the defendant be able to cross-examine the victim on these issues if they tend to prove ulterior motives or that the victim consented.
However, the court could minimize any danger of undue prejudice by admitting the evidence with a cautionary instruction and strictly limiting the scope of cross-examination.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is the challenged evidence’s exclusion under the rape shield law permissible under the Sixth Amendment’s right to confrontation of adverse witness?
Held. No. Rape shield laws are constitutional, but an accused must be allowed to fully cross-examine the witnesses testifying against him. Therefore, while rape shield laws generally preclude the introduction of evidence of the victim’s sexual history or reputation, an accused may question the victim regarding these topics if the testimony would be probative of an ulterior motive or that the victim consented to the sexual intercourse. Here, the victim’s written statements in her diary could reasonably be used to attack her credibility and form a basis to question her ulterior motives and whether she consented.
Discussion. Rape shield laws serve the purpose of not subjecting the victim to the embarrassment of having her sexual history recounted in court, but a victim cannot hide exculpatory or credibility evidence from the court by invoking the rape shield law.