What is a Rape Shield Law and Why Do We Have It?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Mar 03, 2020 | 0 Comments

Like many other states, Pennsylvania has what is known as a rape shield law. This statute restricts the types of evidence that a criminal defendant can use when they are accused of a variety of offenses, but is especially prominent in sex crime cases.

It can be a significant obstacle to your defense in some cases, making it a very important law to know and understand.

Here's what the rape shield law is, in Pennsylvania, and why we have one.

Pennsylvania's Rape Shield Law

The rape shield law in Pennsylvania is codified at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3104. Like a lot of laws, it creates a broad rule and then carves out a few exceptions to that rule.

The general rule is fairly straightforward: People who have been accused of certain eligible crimes are not allowed to defend themselves by presenting evidence of the alleged victim's sexual promiscuity. The evidence that is off the table for these defendants includes:

  • Specific instances of the alleged victim's past sexual conduct
  • Opinion evidence concerning the alleged victim's sexual history
  • Evidence of the alleged victim's reputation for sexual promiscuity

The eligible crimes under the rape shield law are numerous, but are most commonly charges for:

The rape shield law might not seem that important. However, the practical implications can be severe: If you have been accused of sexually assaulting someone, the rape shield law will make it very difficult to prove that the incident was consensual by using the alleged victim's past sexual conduct to infer consent. Even if the alleged victim used to be a sex worker and has a past conviction for prostitution on his or her record, the rape shield law will block evidence of that prior conviction from being used in court.

Why Do We Have the Rape Shield Law?

Rape shield laws exist to prevent an alleged victim's prior sexual history from being used to undermine their credibility and, by doing so, remove a significant deterrent to their coming forward. If criminal defendants could bring up an alleged victim's sexual past or their reputation for promiscuity, many women would hesitate to go to the police even if they had a legitimate claim to make.

Additionally, courts have found that this evidence of someone's sexual past with other people is a poor indication of what happened, in the case at issue.

With that said, though, rape shield laws can drastically undermine a criminal defendant's ability to defend themselves against a serious criminal allegation. In some cases, that evidence is important, but the rape shield law keeps it out, anyway.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who represents the accused in Philadelphia. Many defendants face an uphill struggle in proving their innocence, thanks to the rape shield law. While it does serve some important interests, innocent people who have been accused of a crime can pay the price.

Call attorney Lento at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online for legal help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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