New York Defendant Successfully Appeals Lower Court’s Decision, Highlighting Importance of Contextualizing Evidence Rules in Sexual Assault Cases

In a recent case before a court in New York, the defendant asked the court to find that the lower court had erroneously excluded evidence during his trial. The defendant was originally charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and a jury found him guilty as charged. On appeal, however, the higher court agreed with the defendant’s argument and ultimately reversed the lower court’s decision.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was sitting on a couch with a minor relative of his when he allegedly penetrated the minor’s vagina and touched her breasts. The minor’s testimony indicated that the two individuals had blankets over their laps, and that the defendant reached under the blanket and proceeded to touch her inappropriately.

The minor immediately texted her mother to tell her what had happened. At that point, the defendant was charged with first-degree sexual abuse. He pled not guilty, and his case went to trial. A jury found him guilty, and the court sentenced the defendant to three years in prison.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant took issue with the lower court’s refusal to allow him to present certain evidence at trial. Specifically, the defendant had forensic reports that were based on a medical examiner’s report after examining the minor. The forensic evidence offered alternate explanations for the injuries found on the minor; specifically, the evidence demonstrated that the injuries could have been the result of either masturbation of another person entirely.

The lower court had refused to admit the defendant’s evidence because of something called the rape shield law – this law essentially prohibits parties from introducing evidence about a sexual assault victim’s past sexual history. This law is meant to protect victims of sexual assault from being prejudiced by any previous sexual behavior.

Here, said the higher court, the lower court was incorrect when it kept the forensic evidence out of the record. While rape shield laws can be beneficial, in this case, the defendant’s entire argument during trial was that another individual committed the sexual assault. The defendant was unable to present his case without the relevant forensic evidence in the record. Therefore, the court should have granted the defendant’s request to have the jury consider this evidence.  The defendant, in fact, has a Constitutional right to put on a defense and the Court unlawfully prevented him from doing so.

The court then reversed the lower court’s decision, directing the lower court to reschedule trial in the defendant’s case.

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