What is Rape Shield Law, and what are its Punishments in Indiana?
Rape is classified as a violent crime and invites the most severe punishments for the pronouncement of guilt. It is a form of sexual assault involving penetration of vagina, mouth and or anus with an organ or foreign object without the consent of the victim. A large majority of victims of rape are women, and the trauma and social stigma attached to it, still prevents many to report the criminal offense.
Before 2013, the Federal Law of the United States of America had persisted with the 1927 definition of rape, which neither attributed rape to a "lack of consent", nor did it elaborate on the types of penetrations that could amount to rape, if committed without the victims' consent.
The updated definition of rape in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program of 2013 was an acknowledgment of the many amendments instituted across State Legislations to promote the status of will and consent of the victim as the focal point of rape trials, rather than an important aspect of it.
A conclusive relation between this new definition and the rise in reported numbers of rape after 2013 may seem farfetched, but one certainly cannot deny that the reported numbers have steadily risen since 2013 till 2017 and resulted in a higher number of rape trials.
Rape is a life-altering traumatic experience for the victim that usually subjects them to repeated victimization even after suffering the criminal offense, which becomes a very serious cause of concern during rape trials. The burden of proving dissent instead of consent by the alleged victim during the commission of the act often aggravates this trauma during cross-examination at court, especially when the sexual history of the complainant is brought into question.
The Law today recognizes the considerable possibility of rape being committed by individuals who have had prior sexual relations with the victim and bearing this in mind framed Rape Shield Laws that not only make evidence of sexual conduct of victim prior to the rape inadmissible in court barring a few exceptions, but also try to safeguard the constitutional rights of the complainant.
The State of Michigan enacted such a Rape Shield Law in 1974, followed by other States until every State had some version of it. Later on, these statutes and laws were amended many States in alignment with the Federal Rule of Evidence 412, hence the Indiana Rule of Evidence 412 which was constituted in the year 2011.
The aforesaid rule prohibits evidence of past sexual conduct of the victim to be presented in court for evaluating prior consent of the complainant until and unless:
- It is between the complainant and the defendant.
- Someone else other than the defendant commissioned the act.
- The defendant is not responsible for the pregnancy of the victim during the trial.
- The evidence is presented under Rule 609 for the conviction to impeach the complainant.
The Rule further states that a written motion towards the presentation of such evidence must be filed at least 10 days before trial.
Experts have observed that Indiana has an additional exception to the criteria of admission of evidence as an exception to the Rape Shield Rule i.e. the responsibility of pregnancy of the victim during trial, wherein active sexual conduct of the alleged victim with an individual other than the defendant which may indicate a lack of trauma or unwillingness of victim to reveal facts, unless the victim was raped while pregnant.
Critics, on the other hand, cite misuse of the Rape Shield Law by alleged victims as well as misuse of the exceptions by defendants to implicate the other party and get away with serious offenses. Nonetheless, a Rape Shield Law is an admission of the plight of rape victims after the crime.
It is also pertinent to know the punishments that may be pronounced by Indiana Courts if the defendant is found guilty of rape. On the day of judgment, the Courts may sentence the guilty for a period of 6-20 years’ incarceration and a fine of up to 10,000 USD for a Level 1 Felony, 10 to 30 years of imprisonment for a Level 2 Felony with a fine of up to 10,000 USD or even an incarceration of 6 months to 2.5 years with the accompanying fine of up to 10,000 USD for a Level 6 Felony.