What is Rape Shield Law, and what are its Punishments in Utah?
Despite severe punishments stipulated by Law, millions fall victim to the heinous crime of rape around the world and the United States of America is no exception. It is notified as a serious criminal offense in most countries, and women are the worst affected. The U.S. has relevant legislation along with active law enforcement, and yet about 321,500 women get raped in the U.S. every year.
Those aged between 12-34 years is the most vulnerable to sexual assault. A survey states that by the year 1998, approximately 17.7 million American women fell prey to rape and attempted rape. This number would be much higher if one could estimate the number of unreported rapes.
Rape is the most ghastly type of sexual assault wherein the victims are subject to sexual intercourse or sexual penetration, without their consent and against their will, by use of physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or when the victim is in a state of inability to give consent i.e. victim is incapacitated/unconscious, suffering from temporary or persistent impairment of intellectual or adaptive functioning and/or below the prescribed age of legal consent. Most victims suffer the crime as well as a traumatized aftermath of feeling damaged and unable to lead their normal lives.
It is a known fact that providing relief to a victim is an integral part of providing justice. One such relief is to minimize the aggravation of trauma of the complainant during a rape trial. To this end, it is prudent that the past sexual behavior of the alleged victim should not be misused to target her/his credibility as a witness. Additionally, probing into the past sexual conduct of the victim is a violation of her/his constitutional right to privacy.
Thus, Rape Shield Laws were enacted by various State Governments in the United States, starting with Michigan in 1974. Utah passed its own version of the Rape Shield Law, drafted and codified as Utah Rules of Evidence 404 & 405 in the year 1986. These rules were amended in 2010 in line with the Federal Rules of Evidence 412 and reconstituted as the Utah Rules of Evidence 412.
The aforementioned rule clarifies that evidence regarding any alleged sexual misconduct of the complainant is inadmissible in criminal proceedings other than a few exceptions wherein the evidence regarding sexual behavior with the defendant, specific instances of sexual behavior which present the possibility of someone else other than the defendant being the source of semen, injury or other physical evidence or any evidence, the exclusion of which shall be a violation of the constitutional rights of the defendant.
The inclusion of these exceptions in the Rules of Evidence also serves the objective of preserving the sixth amendment rights of the defendant i.e. facing the accuser. Before admission of any such evidence, the Court is required to conduct a preliminary hearing in camera to allow being heard, to both parties, especially of the accuser. The probative value of the evidence in question must serve a more critical role during the trial that the possibility of creation of unfair prejudice in judge and jury against the alleged victim. 34 other States in the U.S. provide similar safeguards to the accused.
The penalty and punishments to anyone held guilty of rape in Utah are prescribed as incarceration up to life imprisonment with a fine of up to $5,000 for a first-degree felony and a sentence of up to 15 years of imprisonment with a fine of up to $10,000 for a second-degree felony. Forced sexual abuse of a child is a second-degree felony.