EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, March 7, 2008

Minnesota Girl: Golden Gopher Sexual Assault Trial Reveal Differences Between Federal and Minnesota's Rape Shield Rules

Former University of Minnesota defensive back Dominic Jones will soon stand trial for sexually assaulting an 18 year-old woman in a case that reveals an interesting distinction between the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Minnesota Rules of Evidence.  On April 3, the victim allegedly drank eight shots of vodka and had sex with three other University of Minnesota football players before coming into contact with Jones.  Thereafter, Jones allegedly had sex with the victim, with the prosecutor's theory of the case being that the sexual act was sexual assault because the victim was too inebriated to consent

To prove that a sexual assault occurred, the prosecution moved to have introduced a recording of the act (and photos taken from that recording) made by another University of Minnesota football player on his cell phone.  The judge ruled that the recording and photos will be admissible at Jones' upcoming trial.  This ruling makes sense, assuming that the recording was properly authenticated, because its probative value in establishing the sexual assault was almost certainly not substantially outweighed by dangers such as the danger of unfair prejudice, making it admissible under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 403.

On the other hand, Jones' attorney has moved to admit evidence of the sex that the victim had with three other University of Minnesota football players at trial.  The judge has not ruled on this motion.  How will he rule, though?

Well, under the rape shield rule, contained in both Federal Rule of Evidence 412 and Minnesota Rule of Evidence 412, evidence of a victim's past sexual acts is generally inadmissible on the theory that jurors might think that the victim was promiscuous and thus consented to the sexual act at issue.  Under Federal Rule of Evidence 412, however, there is an exception in criminal cases, allowing for the admission of  "evidence of specific instances of sexual behavior by the alleged victim offered to prove that a person other than the accused was the source of semen, injury, or other physical evidence." 

In other words, if the victim claims that she was sexually assaulted by the defendant and semen is found on her which belongs to another man, that evidence is admissible to prove that it was another man who assaulted her.  If the victim claims that she was sexually assaulted by the defendant, and she seeks to prove her case that the sex was nonconsensual because she has bruising and cuts, the defendant can prove that she engaged in another sexual act close in time to the alleged assault to prove that the other sexual act was the source of her injuries.  The "other physical evidence" portion usually applies in cases where the defendant is proving that some other man is the source of the victim's pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.  (And there are other scenarios where this exception can come into play).

By contrast, Minnesota Rule of Evidence 412's is more limited.  It indicates that "[w]hen the prosecution's case includes evidence of semen, pregnancy or disease at the time of the incident, or in the case of pregnancy, between the time of the incident and trial, evidence of specific instances of the victim's previous sexual conduct [is admissible] to show the source of the semen, pregnancy or disease."  What is clear is that the Minnesota rule does not mention the word "injury."  Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Minnesota has found that while the Federal Rules of Evidence and several states have included “injury” in their rape shield laws, Minnesota has not. State v. Carpenter, 459 N.W.2d 121, 126 (Minn. 1990).  Moreover, in the Carpeneter case, the Court found that it could not read the term "injury" into the Rule and that the defendant's Constitutional rights were not violated by failing to include the "injury" exception.

Thus, if the victim had injuries and Jones' defense is that the other football players caused those injuries during prior sexual acts, evidence of those acts will be inadmissible even though they would be admissible in most other courts.  I'm an advocate of the rape shield rule based upon the way that rape and sexual assault victims were (mis)treated before the rule's enactment, but I can't see any logical reason for failing to include an exception to the rule when the victim has injuries and the defendant has evidence that another sexual act caused those injuries.



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Posted by: Rachael | Dec 3, 2008 6:49:26 AM

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