Consequences of Being a Convicted Sex Offender
In the United States, sex offenses are some of the most serious crimes that an individual can be charged with, and regardless of conviction, can result in far-reaching social and professional consequences that can follow you around for the rest of your life.
If convicted of a sex crime, legal penalties can range from probation for minor charges all the way up to life in prison for the rape of a child with serious bodily injury (PA 3121 E 2.d).
Social Stigma of Sex Offenders
For many defendants, the collateral damages from accusations and convictions of sex crimes are often more damaging than the legal damages because of the pervasive social stigma associated with sexual misconduct. Even convictions for misdemeanor sex offenses can result in lifetime sex offender registration under Meghan’s Law, making it difficult or impossible to secure meaningful employment, live at peace in your community, or even travel across state lines let alone out of the country.
Defending Alleged Sexual Offenders & The Rape Shield Law in Philadelphia
As a criminal defense attorney, clients frequently request an all-out attack on the credibility of the complainant, including the exposure of all of their sexual exploits prior to the date of the alleged incident. However, under Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law, the defense is often limited as to how and when a victim’s past sexual conduct can be admissible at trial. Understanding the extent of these limitations is crucial to a successful defense.
What is The Rape Shield Law?
The Rape Shield Law prevents the defense from offering evidence of specific instances of the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct, opinion and reputation evidence of the victim’s past sexual conduct, unless:
- The evidence is about the alleged victim’s sexual contact with the accused
- The consent of the victim is at issue
- The testimony is otherwise admissible under the rules of evidence
Pennsylvania courts have consistently held that evidence of consensual sex with third parties on prior occasions has no probative value as to his/ her consent to have intercourse with the defendant on the occasion in question. Even a complainant’s conviction for prostitution is inadmissible because the fact that the complainant was convicted for prostitution with someone other than the defendant is not probative of the allegation that she prostituted herself with the defendant. Generally, any evidence offered to demonstrate the promiscuity of the victim is barred.
Exceptions to the Rape Shield Law
If you are charged with a sexual offense, it is imperative that you hire a lawyer capable of understanding how to avoid the Rape Shield Law, and to launch an aggressive investigation that will lead to facts that can actually be used in court. Below are several important exceptions to the Rape Shield Law, as well as a few examples from real cases.
- Evidence which demonstrates a witness’s bias, interest or prejudice, or which properly attacks the witness’s credibility is admissible notwithstanding the Rape Shield Law because of a defendant’s state and federal rights to confrontation.
- Evidence that a complainant had an abortion was held admissible where the defense alleged that the allegations against the defendant/father were motivated by her fear that she would be severely beaten for getting pregnant and having an abortion.
- Evidence of a defendant’s daughter/victim’s prior sexual conduct with her brother was admissible to show that when the brother was exiled from the home, the complainant fabricated charges against the father for interfering with the relationship.
- Evidence of prior consensual sex with the defendant, coupled with the defendant’s claim of reluctance to spend time with the complainant on the night in question was admissible to suggest bias leading to fabrication.
- Evidence of a complainant’s prior experience as a prosecutrix in a sexual assault case (against her mother’s paramour which led to her being removed from her last home) was admissible as relevant to establish motive to fabricate (to get herself removed from defendant’s home and his wife’s strict discipline.)
- Evidence of prior sexual conduct to provide an alternative explanation for objective signs of intercourse is admissible.
- Evidence of the presence of semen in the victim’s vagina, blood on underwear, acid phosphatase on underwear have all been admissible.
- Rape Shield Law does not prohibit the admission of evidence that the victim had been the subject of a previous sexual assault. To be a victim is not “conduct” of the person victimized. However, the evidence must still be relevant. Evidence of prior sexual assaults is barred unless so temporally related to the incident in question as to contradict the occurrence in question and/or in some way be exculpatory to the charges being prosecuted.