Criminal Law/Evidence Law.  Rape shield laws are statutes intended to limit harassing and embarrassing defense inquiries into the prior sexual conduct of sexual assault complainants, thereby encouraging victims to report sexual assaults and testify at trial.

Since the 1970s, the federal government and all of the 50 states have amended their rules of evidence by enacting ‘rape shield’ statutes.  While rape shield laws vary in scope and procedural details, they share common features of declaring an end to the presumptive admissibility of such evidence and of restricting the situations in which a defendant will be allowed to bring the victim’s sexual history to the attention of the fact finder.  This is contrary to the common law, where such evidence was always admissible.

Examples of Rape Shield Statutes:  See, e.g., Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 412  and California Evidence Code § 782

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