What is Rape Shield Law and What are its Punishments in Maine?
Crimes against women have been happening since eons. In recent days, these crimes are increasing. One of the crimes against women is rape, which is a sexual assault on a woman and is one of the most degrading of crimes.
The statistics related to rape in the USA reveals some shocking facts. One in five women faces the risk of rape in their lifetime. In 2017, there were 99,856 cases of rape reported. More than 60% of sexual assault crimes are not reported to the police.
During rape cases, one of the tactics used by defense attorneys to protect their clients is to raise the past sexual behavior of the victim and use it to protect their client. A rape shield law helps to protect the rights of rape victims.
It prohibits defense attorneys from introducing evidence or cross-examining the victim about their sexual activities. Rape shield law also refers to the rule that protects rape victims by preventing their identity from being disclosed. Many rapes are not reported as victims would be named; this law prevents this and is meant to encourage women to report cases of sexual assault and rape.
Rape shield laws are prevalent in many countries worldwide. In the USA, it is the state of Michigan, which was a pioneer introducing a rape shield law in 1974. Subsequently, most states in the USA have passed such laws to protect the rights of rape victims. The state of Maine also has a rape shield law.
The Rape Shield Law in Maine was introduced in the form of Rule 412 in the Rules of Evidence. It was enacted in the year 1983. The highlights of this rule are:
- It is applicable for all cases of rape, gross sexual assault, gross sexual misconduct, unlawful sexual contact, and sexual abuse of minors.
- It excludes all evidence of the victim’s sexual history to be introduced during the case. It bars the introduction of reputation evidence or opinion evidence by the accused.
- It has been observed even by the court of law, as in the case of State vs. Jacques that the purpose of introducing the rule is to prevent the victim from being on trial, rather than the defendant.
- In line with the Federal law, it allows for exceptions.
- The first exception is a defendant can introduce evidence related to the sexual history of the victim with someone other than the defendant when the defendant claims that the other person is responsible for committing rape or sexual assault.
- The second exception is that to prove that the victim consented to the sexual act, history with the defendant can be introduced.
- In both these exceptions, the rule clearly states that the evidence should be other than reputation or opinion evidence.
- It also allows for an exception where the evidence can be introduced, if it is shown that exclusion of the evidence would violate the constitutional rights of the accused.
- When compared to the Federal rules, the Maine rule does not provide for an in-camera hearing. It is left to the discretion of the trial judge to control the way evidence is presented.
- In civil cases, when there is a charge of sexual misconduct against an accused, the evidence of sexual behavior of the individual may be introduced, only if the judge feels that the value of this evidence is greater than the risk of causing harm to the individual and prejudicing the jury.
- Maine, however, does not have a victims rights amendment in its constitution to provide a right to privacy for rape victims.