Sexual assault and rape prosecutions in Massachusetts involve some of the most serious allegations and consequences envisioned by the criminal code. Because the facts of a sexual assault case are often based upon the credibility of both the victim and the defendant, evidence that discredits a victim can be highly beneficial to a defendant in such cases. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently affirmed a defendant’s rape conviction, in spite of the defense’s objections to the exclusion of relevant evidence from the trial which placed the credibility of the victim at issue.
The Rape Shield Statute and Evidence Admissibility
An important point of law in this case is the Massachusetts rape shield statute, G.L. c.233, §21B. This statute limits the admissibility of evidence related to a victim’s sexual conduct, aiming to protect the victim’s privacy and prevent the introduction of irrelevant or prejudicial information. The statute outlines exceptions, allowing evidence that pertains to the victim’s sexual conduct with the defendant or recent conduct that explains physical characteristics alleged to be the result of a defendant’s conduct. The defendant sought to introduce evidence regarding the victim’s underpants collected during a medical examination performed after the alleged assault.
The state Supreme Court upheld the denial of the motion to admit this evidence, emphasizing that the defendant failed to establish a connection between the underpants collected and the ones worn by the victim on the night of the alleged rape. The court noted that the defendant’s argument of proving the victim’s intercourse with another individual and explaining her testimony about physical discomfort lacked substantive evidence that would permit the evidence’s admission at trial.