WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court said May 20 that the interest of states in protecting rape victims lets them severely limit when suspects can invoke exceptions to "rape-shield" laws meant to keep testimony of a woman's prior sexual history from trial. The court said a state can require that a rape suspect notify it within days of his arrest if he plans to cite his past sexual relationship with the victim as supporting evidence for his claim that the sex was by consent.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that requiring an accused rapist to tell prosecutors within 10 days of his arraignment if he will cite such a relationship is illegal.
But the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that such restrictions are not unconstitutional.
The Michigan rape-shield case involved the 1985 conviction of Nolan Lucas for allegedly forcing his former girlfriend to have sex.
Michigan's rape-shield statute, like those in most states, was enacted to protect women from having irrelevant past sexual activity exposed at a rape trial and to ensure such testimony is not used to harass or intimidate women.
The law allows a suspect to bring evidence of his past consensual sexual conduct with the woman if he informs the court of his plan to use such testimony within 10 days of his arraignment.
Lucas sought to defend himself with testimony about his half-year relationship with the alleged victim but was prohibited because he had not told the court of his plans within 10 days of his arraignment.
The Michigan Court of Appeals said invoking the 10-day notice-and-hearing requirement violated Lucas's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.
But the Supreme Court majority, in an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the appeals court was wrong.