woman hiding her face behind her handThe survivors of sexual assault often feel it’s not worth pursuing their rapist because they think it means risking their reputation. After all, it takes a lot of courage to take the stand against an abuser—someone who could reveal or falsify the details of a victim’s sexual past. But in recent years, California has reformed its civil justice system, establishing “rape shield” laws that prevent defendants from trying to malign the victims of sexual assault.

Section 1103

California’s rape shield laws are detailed by state Evidence Code 1103 E.C. This statute restricts the circumstances in which the accused person in a sexual assault case may introduce evidence about their victim’s past sexual behavior.

While there are some exceptions to the “rape shield” law, Section 1103 broadly prohibits defendants from introducing evidence relating to an alleged victim’s:

  • Past sexual conduct
  • Perceived sexual reputation

Section 1103 has several different purposes:

  • To shield survivors from surprise during the trial
  • To prevent an accused person from using evidence to harass or intimidate a victim into silence
  • To safeguard survivors’ privacy

However, one of the most important aspects of California’s “rape shield” law is that it stops defendants from introducing evidence of a survivor’s past sexual conduct with other people.

This precludes many victim-blaming defenses, whereby attorneys for the accused person might suggest that the victim was promiscuous, inclined to substance abuse, or otherwise not positioned to offer reliable testimony.

Cases Covered By California’s Rape Shield Law

Evidence Code Section 1103 applies to the following types of cases:

  • Rape (Penal Code 261)
  • Spousal and/or Marital Rape (Penal Code 262)
  • Rape in concert and/or accessory to rape (Penal Code 264.1)
  • Sodomy (Penal Code 286)
  • Oral copulation or penetration by force (Penal Code 288(a))
  • Forcible penetration with a foreign object (Penal Code 289)

Exceptions to Section 1103

California’s rape shield law is meant to protect the victims of sexual assault from irrelevant and potentially malicious evidence. However, defendants are still afforded the right to introduce evidence relating to an alleged victim’s past sexual conduct if:

  • The evidence relates to the accuser’s past sexual activities and conduct with the defendant
  • The accuser introduces evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible under Section 1103

In some instances, a judge may allow the exhibition of other inadmissible evidence if they believe such evidence is in the best interest of either the accuser or the accused. For example, Section 1103 ordinarily forbids evidence relating to the clothing the accused was wearing at the time of an alleged sexual assault; however, the judge might allow evidence related to the accuser’s clothing if they believe it is relevant to the case.

Why You Need an Attorney

Even though Section 1103 provides the survivors of sexual assault with enhanced rights, defendants can still find ways around the law. For example:

  • They might argue that, because you consented to a sexual act(s) in the past, you must also have provided implicit or explicit consent to an abusive act.
  • They could try to introduce evidence suggesting that you made previous unfounded allegations of rape or sexual assault.
  • They may persuade the judge that your actions, attire, or prior relationship with a defendant are relevant to the case.

In some limited instances, the accused person’s attorney could try to circumvent Section 1103 in its entirety by telling the judge that information about your sexual history or reputation undermines your reliability.

If the judge consents to any of these arguments, you risk losing your privacy. You may be forced to confront evidence—such as eyewitness testimony, photographs, or video—that has nothing to do with your case, and that may be intended to coerce you into dropping your claim.

Contact Us Today

If you or a loved one is considering a personal injury lawsuit after a sexual assault, you could be entitled to significant compensation. However, you need an experienced attorney on your side—someone who is willing to stand up against an abuser and push back against their attempts to introduce misleading evidence. Send Case Barnett Law a message online today to schedule your free and discreet consultation.

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