Massachusetts Rape Shield Law Explained

As a Massachusetts rape attorney, it is my duty to zealously defend my clients to the best of my ability. However, there are certain things a rape defense lawyer cannot do in the process of defending a client in court.

In the past, criminal defense lawyers would utilize a certain strategy in order to win their rape cases. This very frequently involved bringing up information about the alleged victim’s prior sexual history, and thus, undermining the accuser’s credibility. This now-outmoded legal practice discouraged many alleged rape victims (almost always women,) from pressing charges at all, for fear of aggressive cross-examination in court about their sexual history. Many people, primarily women’s rights activists, felt this courtroom practice should be prevented, since merely because an alleged rape victim may have been sexually active in her (or his) past, did not necessarily mean that the alleged victim consented to the sexual contact that was at issue in a rape trial.

Things have changed, and most people can understand why. In all states today with the exception of Arizona, there exist “rape shield laws,” which prevent the defense from introducing evidence of an alleged rape victim’s prior sexual history or alleged sexual reputation. These laws were gradually introduced state-by-state in the 1970’s. In this state, the Massachusetts Rape Shield Law does not permit the introduction of a rape victim’s prior sexual history and sexual reputation by a defendant’s attorney. That law is governed by Massachusetts General Laws. Ch. 233, Section 21B. Before Massachusetts enacted its own rape shield law, a Massachusetts rape defense lawyer could employ this strategy in a variety of cases, not only in a Massachusetts rape charge, but in a variety of Massachusetts sex crimes charges, including statutory rape, aggravated rape, and assault with intent to commit rape.

Rape Shield laws like what we have in Massachusetts are generally a good idea. That doesn’t mean, however, that the credibility of the alleged victim cannot be called into question or attacked. It only means that evidence of the alleged victim’s prior sexual history or alleged sexual reputation cannot be introduced to attack the accuser’s credibility on the issue of consent. As a Norfolk County Massachusetts rape defense attorney, I have successfully attacked the credibility of many accusers in cases of rape charges and sexual offense charges. Consent is always the key issue in Massachusetts rape and Massachusetts sexual assault cases, and there are many ways to probe the issue of consent and thus call into question the alleged victim’s lack of consent. Doing this effectively requires a Massachusetts rape defense lawyer who is extremely experienced at this type of cross-examination. If you or someone you care about is facing a rape charge in Massachusetts, here is one very valuable piece of advice: Do not hire an attorney who does not have many years of successful experience in defending rape and sexual assault cases. These are highly complicated cases, and not suitable for any other type of attorney other than a specialist in this field of law.