Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

Washington Evidence Rule 412, often referred to as the “rape shield law,” plays a pivotal role in legal proceedings related to sexual offenses, particularly in the context of civil cases. This rule is crucial for maintaining a balance between the rights of the victim and the due process rights of the accused. Understanding the nuances of ER 412 is essential for legal practitioners, victims, and defendants alike.

Understanding ER 412: A Closer Look

(a) Criminal Cases: A Reserved Section

ER 412 (a) is reserved and refers to RCW 9A.44.020. This highlights the distinct treatment of evidence in criminal cases involving sexual offenses, which is governed by specific statutes.

(b) Civil Cases: Limitations on Admissibility of Evidence

In civil cases concerning alleged sexual misconduct, ER 412 sets stringent boundaries on the admissibility of certain types of evidence. Specifically:

  1. Evidence of Other Sexual Behavior: Any evidence aimed at proving the victim’s engagement in other sexual behavior is generally inadmissible.
  2. Evidence of Sexual Predisposition: Similarly, evidence intended to prove a victim’s sexual predisposition is not admissible.

These limitations are crucial for protecting victims from invasive and often irrelevant scrutiny of their personal lives, which can be both humiliating and intimidating.

(c) Exceptions: When Evidence May Be Admissible

ER 412(c) outlines exceptions where such evidence may be admissible in civil cases:

  • The evidence must be otherwise admissible under the rules.
  • Its probative value must substantially outweigh the potential harm to the victim and the risk of unfair prejudice to any party.
  • Evidence of the victim’s reputation is only admissible if the victim has placed it in controversy.

This section ensures that while protecting the victim’s dignity, the court also considers the relevance and necessity of evidence for the justice process.

(d) Admissibility Procedure: Safeguarding Rights

ER 412(d) details the procedural requirements for determining the admissibility of such evidence:

  1. Pre-Trial Motion Requirements:
    • A written motion describing the evidence and its intended purpose must be filed at least 14 days before trial, subject to court discretion.
    • This motion must be served on all parties and the alleged victim or their guardian/representative.
  2. In Camera Hearing:
    • The court conducts a private hearing (in camera) to decide on the admissibility of the evidence.
    • The victim and parties have the right to attend and be heard.
    • All related documents and the hearing record are sealed unless the court orders otherwise.

This procedure is designed to respect the privacy and dignity of the victim while allowing a fair assessment of the evidence.

Conclusion: Balancing Interests in Sexual Offense Cases

Washington Evidence Rule 412 is a testament to the legal system’s commitment to balancing the rights of sexual offense victims with the principles of fair trial and justice. By restricting the admissibility of potentially prejudicial evidence, ER 412 protects victims from being re-traumatized in the courtroom. However, it also provides a framework for exceptions, ensuring that relevant and significant evidence can be considered in the pursuit of justice. For legal professionals, victims, and defendants, a thorough understanding of ER 412 is vital in navigating these sensitive and complex cases.

You can Read the text of ER 412 here:

Review our client resources here

Contact us anytime for your urgent legal needs.

About Blanford Law:

We are no-nonsense, relentless, fair, and honest. We are great listeners instead of fast talkers, that is just who we are. More than 20 years ago, Ken began practicing law with a deeply-seeded belief that every person has the right to the best legal representation available. He built his law firm on that belief. Another belief that he strongly adheres to is his fundamental belief that clients deserve respect, with no assumptions or preconceived notions.  If you or someone you know is accused of a crime or injured as a result of the negligence of another, please have them call us at 253-720-9304 or email us