Thursday, April 23, 2015

Wolf Cry! - The Fallacy of the "Rape Shield Law"

The "Violence Against Women Act" of 1994 created a Federal "rape shield law", which followed after many states had already enacted equivalent versions during the 1970's and 1980's.

rape shield law is a law that limits a defendant's ability to introduce evidence or cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behavior. 

If you have listened to the radio interviews regarding the Jon Massey Case, you will have heard author Mike Volpe talk about how the judge and the district attorney used NY Rape Shield Law to obstruct Jon Massey's attorney. He was blocked from developing and presenting a defense against the false allegations made against him by Ruby, his partner's daughter.

Ruby's had compelling motivation to make false allegations - Jon and her mother had tried to prevent the 14 year old girl from having a romantic relationship with a 21 year old man for almost six months.

Her premeditated intent to remove Jon from the house solely to enable her to continue her relationship was repeatedly expressed by her in text messages and Facebook messages to her boyfriend, as well as to other individuals. 

At issue was not the sexual nature of the relationship - it was the fact that the boyfriend had been warned on at least three occasions that he was not to have any type of relationship with Ruby and that to do so would lead to pursuit of legal action. It was the constant attempts by Jon and her mother to prevent the relationship by any means necessary that prompted Ruby to make allegations that would remove Jon from any ability to interfere, as well as tie her mother's hands.

As a point of fact, when Ruby's mother tried to describe how Ruby responded violently when the subject of the boyfriend was even brought up, the judge not only began screaming at the mother from the bench, he also cleared the jury from the room and threatened to have her jailed for contempt of court. This occurred not once, but twice during the trial.

Not one of the defense witnesses was ever allowed to mention the boyfriend's name or allude that there even was one. The jury never heard about Ruby's threats against her mother and Jon if they interfered with her relationship. They were blocked from hearing the truth.

Additionally, one of the other potential witnesses who could testify to Ruby planning months in advance to "get Jon out of the house so he won't be able to monitor me" was a young man, and the judge refused to allow him to be called as a defense witness, again citing the Rape Shield Law.

The Rape Shield Laws are a necessary and a valid protective tool - they prevent defendants from using prior sexual behavior, lifestyle choices, or even attire to prejudice a jury against the victim. Nobody disputes that further exposing a victim to shame and humiliation is unnecessary and should be prevented whenever possible.

However, these laws were never intended as a tool to be used by the court or district attorney to prevent someone accused of a capital offense from preventing a valid defense, which is what has evidently evolved.

Even the NY Court of Appeals, in 1999 in the case People v. Jovanovic (in which a lower court improperly suppressed emails which would have cleared the defendant), affirmed that Rape Shield was not to interfere with a valid defense. (This sounds hauntingly familiar - as there was electronic evidence that Ruby was planning for months to remove Jon as she viewed him as the primary person able to monitor her behavior. The case was even cited by Jon's attorney in an attempt to persuade the judge to allow the documentary evidence and testimony, not only by Ruby's boyfriend, but by the other young man.)

The defense in this case wasn't even focused on the sexual behavior of Ruby - it was centered on her belief that Jon and her mother would be able to have her boyfriend arrested. Even without an admission of sexual activity from either Ruby or her boyfriend, the fact that he allowed her to spend the night at his house to "watch documentaries" would be chargeable as endangering the welfare of a child, as well as custodial interference. 

Instead of protecting victims however, the Rape Shield Laws have now become a tool to wrongfully convict people by cutting off their entire line of defense. The judge and the prosecutor in Jon Massey's case deliberately used them in that regard. 

It is interesting to note that available on the internet are several "handbooks" for district attorneys with "blueprints" for prosecuting sexual offenses. One of the strategies that is promoted is to attempt to use the Rape Shield Law to suppress any and all evidence of innocence or ulterior motive on the part of the alleged victim.

We all know the story of the boy who cried wolf. 

By allowing girls who make false allegations to hide behind the Rape Shield statutes and secure wrongful convictions, judges and district attorneys are creating a situation that could result in erosion of victim's rights. The more that people learn of these false convictions based on spite and vindictive behavior, the less likely they are to take true allegations seriously.

It is time to stop allowing prosecutors, judges, and "victims" who make false allegations to hide behind the Rape Shield Law and secure wrongful convictions. Preserve the rights of the true victims, don't allow the corruption of the system to erode their rights.

Speak out, stand up, make a difference!


Anonymous said...

5% of people who are convicted of capital crimes are innocent or estimated to be!

Anonymous said...

The percent is estimated to be much higher on false sexual allegations - around 40% - because most of them plead out.