Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules Rape Shield Law was Properly Applied in Holyoke Rape Trial

The Massachusetts Appeals Court yesterday upheld a Holyoke man’s conviction for aggravated rape, ruling the trial judge properly excluded evidence of the victim’s sexual history pursuant to the rape shield law.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Thomas.

The defendant and the victim, who had previously met, got together one night to party and smoke crack cocaine.  The defendant invited the victim to his apartment and she accepted his invitation.  When they got inside, the defendant directed the victim to a room that contained two mattresses, a television, and drug paraphernalia on the floor.  The defendant went into the bathroom and when he emerged, he was completely naked.   He sat down next to the victim, put his legs around her, and started to choke her without warning.  As the victim began to black out, the defendant released her and demanded she perform oral sex on him.  Over the victim’s objections, the defendant forced her to perform oral sex.  Shortly thereafter, when the defendant momentarily left the room, the victim attempted to escape through a window.  She ended up falling to the ground, suffering a broken wrist, a broken toe, two broken vertebrae, and numerous cuts.  One of the defendant’s neighbors called the police, who responded and arranged for the victim to be transported to the hospital, where she stayed for more than a week.

At the defendant’s trial, he wanted to introduce evidence that the victim had previously been charged with prostitution-related crimes.  The victim had been convicted of being a common street walker and of sexual conduct for a fee.  Ordinarily, a defendant can introduce evidence at trial that the witnesses against him have been conviction of misdemeanors (if they occurred within the previous five years) or felonies (if they occurred within the previous ten years).  However, the rape shield law states that evidence of an alleged rape victim’s sexual history (either in the form of reputation evidence or of specific acts) cannot be introduced against her in most instances.  Notable exceptions are evidence of the victim’s prior sexual contact with the defendant (to establish the sex at issue in the current case was consensual) or evidence that the victim recently had sexual contact with others (to explain the presence of injuries, for example).

In the present case, the defendant’s attorney told the judge evidence of the victim’s past convictions was necessary to explain why she ended up in the defendant’s apartment.  His argument was going to be that the victim was working as a prostitute who went to the defendant’s apartment to obtain drugs in exchange for sex.  The judge ruled the proposed evidence was barred by the rape shield law and excluded it.  The Appeals Court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling and upheld the defendant’s conviction.   The Court noted that the defense at trial was not consent – it was that no sexual contact occurred at all.  Because evidence that the victim had previously worked as a prostitute was unnecessary to argue consent or explain any of the victim’s injuries, it was properly excluded at the defendant’s trial.

Defending allegations of sexual misconduct is particularly tricky because of the complexity of selecting a jury and litigating issues surrounding the rape shield law.  If you are charged with sexual misconduct, you should immediately consult with a lawyer who has experience in defending rape and other sex crimes.