In State v. Jeffries 2020 Ohio 539, the Ohio Supreme Court placed another limitation on the ability of a Defendant to confront their accuser in the trial of a sex offense. In this case, the accuser reported that Jeffries had sexually abused her over a nine-year period. The child also reported that a foster brother had previously sexually abused her. At trial, the Defendant attempted to raise evidence of the previous sexual assault to demonstrate that the child had “knowledge of the system” and to show that her behavioral issues were not the result of an assault by the Defendant.
Under Ohio’s Rape Shield Law, a Defendant with limited exceptions may not raise evidence of an accuser’s prior sexual activity. The defense argued that this prohibition applied only to consensual sexual activity. The Court held that the statute places a prohibition on the introduction of evidence as to both consensual and nonconsensual activity.
This ruling places significant limitations on a Defendant’s ability to demonstrate that an accuser’s victimization in a prior sexual assault precipitated or contributed to their allegations against another. It is noteworthy that the Court did not rule on the defense’s argument that the Rape Shield Law is unconstitutional as a violation of due process and right of confrontation when it impairs a Defendant’s ability to provide relevant probative evidence about an accuser’s non-consensual sexual history.
As a consequence, there may still be limited instances where an accused may be able to raise constitutional objections to the inability to present evidence of an accused’s nonconsensual sexual history. In any event, the Jeffries ruling places another roadblock in the defense of sexual assault cases.