Women and Justice: Keywords


Evidence Act (1990)

Sexual violence and rape

Under Section 211 of the Evidence Act, a man charged with rape, attempt to commit rape, or indecent assault may, as a defense, show that the alleged victim against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed was of a “generally immoral character.” The victim is not to be cross-examined on the subject but may be asked whether she has had “connection” with other men, a term not defined but presumably referring to previous sexual relations. The victim’s answer to this question cannot be contradicted. However, the accused may also ask whether the victim has had connection on other occasions with the accused and is permitted to attempt to contradict the victim’s denial should she deny connection.

Sexual Assault - Prior sexual conduct of the complainant - Admissibility of Evidence (Title 11, Chapter 37, General Laws of Rhode Island)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

If a defendant who is charged with sexual assault intends to introduce evidence at trial that the victim has engaged in sexual activities with other persons, he or she must give prior notice to the court of the intention to introduce such evidence. The notice must be given orally and out of the hearing of any other spectators or jurors. Upon receiving such notice, the court must order the defendant to make a specific offer of the proof that he or she intends to introduce, and the court will rule on the admissibility of the evidence before it can be offered at trial. The purpose of this “rape shield” statute is to encourage victims to report crimes without fear of inviting unnecessary probing into the victim’s sexual history.

Evidence Act (2000)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Section 74 of the Evidence Act governs “[r]estrictions on evidence at trials for rape.”  This section provides that when a man is being prosecuted for rape or attempted rape, the “sexual experience of a complainant with a person other than that defendant” is inadmissible.  The exception to this rule is if a judge is satisfied that it would be unfair to the defendant to refuse to allow the evidence.  Under Section 92(3), a judge has discretion to warn the jury of the “special need for caution” when the prosecution relies only on the testimony of the accuser where a person is “prosecuted for rape, attempted rape, carnal knowledge or any other sexual offence.”

Domestic Case Law

State v. Rivera Supreme Court of Rhode Island (2010)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

A bus driver was convicted of sexually assaulting three developmentally disabled women, two of whom were passengers on the defendant’s bus route. On appeal, the defendant challenged his conviction on several grounds, one of which was that the trial court erred in precluding him from questioning the victim’s mother about a previous incident that suggested the victim was promiscuous. The court held that the defendant was not entitled to question the victim’s mother about the incident, because the defendant did not notify the trial justice beforehand of his intention to probe into the victim’s conduct or otherwise seek a hearing with the court about the admissibility of such evidence.