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What Is New York’s Rape Shield Law?

In New York, there are strict limitations regarding the types of evidence that parties may introduce in court when a charge of rape is involved. One such limitation is that a party can’t cross-examine an alleged rape victim about his or her sexual history. This rule of evidence is known as the rape shield law, and it prohibits an individual charged with a sexual crime from questioning a complainant about his or her prior sexual relationships unless such evidence is somehow relevant to the crime charged. Below is an overview of New York’s rape shield law. 

The Law 

Under New York’s rape shield law, evidence of a complainant’s sexual history is not admissible in a prosecution for a sex offense unless such evidence:

  • Demonstrates that the defendant and complainant engaged in sexual activity on prior specific instances,
  • Demonstrates that the complainant was convicted of a prostitution charge within the three years prior to the alleged incident,
  • Rebuts evidence introduced by the prosecutor of the complainant’s lack of sexual activity during a certain period of time,
  • Refutes evidence introduced by the prosecutor that the complainant’s pregnancy or disease was caused by the defendant or that the defendant was the source of physical evidence recovered, or
  • Is admissible and relevant in the interests of justice (this is determined by the court)

In addition, New York law prohibits the introduction of evidence of a complainant’s sexual history by the prosecution unless the judge determines that such evidence is relevant and admissible in the interests of justice.

The Purpose Of The Rape Shield Law 

The purpose of New York’s rape shield law is to encourage the victims of sexual assault to come forward. The theory behind the law is that more victims will be willing to report sexual crimes if they know that they won’t be subjected to assaults on their character by criminal defense attorneys. Prior to the enactment of New York’s rape shield law, a defendant could present evidence of a complainant’s sexual history. The purpose of the introduction of this evidence was to convince the jury that the alleged victim was promiscuous. Thus, in cases in which a complainant had a vast sexual history, the goal of the defendant was to convince the jury that the complainant was being untruthful regarding rape accusations. 

Contact Our New York Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you’ve been charged with a sex crime in New York, it’s imperative that you engage the services of an experienced New York criminal defense attorney in order to achieve the best possible outcome in your criminal case. At Barket Epstein, our experienced New York criminal defense attorneys will ensure that you are fully apprised of your legal rights and provided with the most effective defense possible against your charges. Please contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a consultation.