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Court of Appeals Highlights Problems with Rape Shield Statute

September 17, 2017

In Atkins v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the Rape Shield Statute prohibited the defendant from inquiring about the paternity of the alleged victim’s baby despite the fact that he was charged with statutory rape as a result of her allegation that he got her pregnant.

The case began when the 13-year-old alleged victim became pregnant and accused the defendant of being the father. She first stated that the father was a “boy at school” but then later claimed it was the defendant, who denied it. The defendant argued that she accused him so that she’d be able to get an abortion.

In her forensic interview, the girl stated that the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with her and that he was the only possible father because she had not been sexually active immediately before or after the incidents with the defendant. However, after the abortion, it was established that the fetus’ DNA did not match that of the defendant.

At trial, the defendant sought to question the girl regarding who the father of the child was. The trial court held that the Rape Shield Statute prevented such questioning. As a result, the jury found the defendant guilty.

The Court of Appeals was satisfied that the Rape Shield Statute prohibited the defendant’s line of questioning, however, it noted that it had serious concerns as to whether the statute was so broad that it could violate a defendant’s right to due process in certain situations. The Court was concerned that, in some cases, the statute could prohibit evidence that may be highly probative of innocence, or that directly related to the credibility of the alleged victim.

The Court stated that “[t]he possibility of this scenario unfolding in a criminal case raises myriad questions related to the Confrontation Clause and Due Process protections of our constitutions. But this is not the case before us.”

Interestingly, the Court did not mention the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Villafranco v. State, where it held that the Rape Shield Statute does not apply where the evidence is being used to impeach the alleged victim’s testimony.

In Villafranco, the Supreme Court reasoned that “[t]here is no justification for letting the witness affirmatively resort to perjurious testimony in reliance on the defendant’s disability to challenge her credibility…The shield provided by this law should not be perverted into a license to use questionable or possibly perjurious testimony free from the risk of adverse confrontation.”

The result here is that a defendant was convicted of impregnating a 13-year-old and was completely unable to introduce evidence at trial to show who the real father was. It would seem abundantly clear in this case that the Rape Shield Statute unfairly limited his ability to present a defense and gave the alleged victim a license to lie­—exactly what our Supreme Court said should not be able to happen.

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