Assembly Advances Expansion Of Rape Shield Law

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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. to create a rape shield law for civil cases was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The rape shield statute in criminal prosecutions provides that evidence of the victim’s previous sexual conduct isn’t admissible except under certain prescribed circumstances.

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Diegnan’s bill (A-231) would establish similar provisions in civil actions alleging sexual assault or sexual harassment.

“I see no reason for differing rape shield laws for criminal and civil cases,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “The same protections provided to victims in criminal cases should also be available in civil cases. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do.”

Under the bill, evidence of the victim’s previous sexual conduct would not be admitted at trial nor reference made to it in the presence of a jury except under certain circumstances.

A party seeking discovery of information concerning the plaintiff’s sexual conduct with persons other than the defendant would be required to establish specific facts showing good cause for that discovery, and that the information sought is relevant to the subject matter of the action and reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

“This information isn’t relevant in a criminal case, and nor should it be relevant in a civil case,” Diegnan said. “The issue at hand in these trials is not a victim’s history, but the assault that took place. That should always be the focus, whether it be a criminal or civil case.”

The bill was unanimously released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It now goes to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.


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