Court Discusses Parameters of Florida’s Rape Shield Law

In many cases in which a defendant is charged with a sex crime, both the State and the defendant will rely on testimony and other circumstantial evidence to support their position. The testimony that is admissible in sex crime cases is limited, however, to protect the alleged victims of such crimes. For example, Florida’s Rape Shield law prohibits a criminal defendant from introducing evidence of the victim’s sexual activity. Recently, the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, discussed the parameters of the Rape Shield law, in a case in which the defendant was charged with sexual battery. If you live in Tampa and are charged with a sex crime it is critical to meet with an experienced Tampa sex crime defense attorney to discuss what evidence the State may introduce against you and what you can do to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the victim met the defendant, a pastor when she was in fifth grade and established a relationship with him when she was a freshman in high school. She reported that the defendant would buy her gifts and that she would occasionally spend the night at his house. On several occasions, the defendant reportedly sexually assaulted the victim. The victim stated the defendant stopped giving her gifts when she stopped attending church. She cut ties with the defendant in November 2014, after which she reported to her family what happened.

It is alleged that the victim was interviewed during a counseling session in 2013, during which she reported three incidents of sexual abuse, none of which were perpetrated by the defendant. The victim stated during the session that those were the only times she was touched inappropriately. The defendant was charged with lewd or lascivious battery and sexual battery. Prior to trial, the State moved to preclude evidence of the victim’s prior sexual relationships pursuant to Florida’s Rape Shield law. The court granted the motions, and the case proceeded to trial. The defendant was convicted, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in precluding evidence of the victim’s sexual abuse history.

Florida’s Rape Shield Law

The Rape Shield law does not preclude evidence that would generally be admissible under the Florida rules of evidence; rather, it codifies the relevance of evidence of the sexual behavior of victims of sex crimes. In other words, the Rape Shield law prohibits evidence of prior consensual sex acts between the victim and any person other than the defendant. The court noted that the Rape Shield law clearly applies to consensual sexual activity with a person other than the defendant.

In the subject case, the defendant did not seek to introduce evidence of the victim’s prior consensual sex acts. Instead, the defendant, who believed the accusations were retaliation for the fact that he stopped buying the victim gifts, sought to introduce evidence that she accused three other men of sexual abuse but did not name the defendant as an abuser, to establish the motive behind her accusation. Here, the court found that the trial court improperly applied the Rape Shield law, precluding the defendant from presenting a full and fair defense. The court found that the error was harmless, however, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Speak with a Trusted Attorney Regarding Your Case

If you are charged with a sex crime in Tampa it is prudent to speak with a trusted criminal defense attorney as soon as possible regarding your case and what defenses you may be able to set forth to protect your rights. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skilled Tampa sex crime defense attorney who will zealously pursue the best legal result available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Hanlon via the form online or at 813-228-7095 to schedule a meeting to discuss your case.