Rape Shield Law: The Kobe Bryant Case

Victim's Activity Within 72 Hours Allowed by Judge

Rape Shield laws are designed to protect a rape victim from the trauma of having her sexual history brought up to undermine the credibility of her testimony, but a judge ruled in the Kobe Bryant case the alleged victim's sexual activity 72 hours before being examined by the police would be admissible.

Chief Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle ruled July 23, 2004 all evidence of "the alleged victim's sexual conduct within approximately 72 hours preceding her physical examination ...

is relevant ... to the determination of cause of injuries observed by the nurse" and the source of "the DNA and other bodily fluids found."

Most observers think the judge's ruling dealt a damaging blow to the prosecution's case against Bryant. Kobe Bryant's lawyers have suggested that his accuser had sex with another man not long after her encounter with Bryant, indicating she was not traumatized. The accuser has denied having sex with anyone after being in Bryant's room, but had sex about three days before.

"They got all they could have possibly expected - it's the kind of ruling defense attorneys dream about," Craig Silverman, a former prosecutor, told The New York Times. "The people have said it's irrelevant and it doesn't matter and now the judge has said it is relevant and we'll let the jury decide if it matters."

Attorney Andrew Cohen, who analyzes legal matters for CBS News said: "Kobe Bryant's rape case is as close as it has ever been to dissolving short of trial.

Friday's rape-shield ruling by Eagle County Circuit Judge Terry Ruckriegle is a devastating blow to prosecutors and a huge victory for the defense. It puts enormous emotional and personal pressure on the alleged victim in the case and makes it virtually impossible for prosecutors to convict Bryant of sexual assault beyond a reasonable doubt."

Prosecution Case Derailed?

But the prosecution's case may not be entirely derailed by the ruling. The judge rejected the admissibility of other evidence of the alleged victim's sexual history that the defense wanted to introduce to the jury. Prosecutors said they were looking at the ruling to determine their options.

It is rare that an exception to the rape shield law is made to allow such evidence to come before a jury. But this ruling came after nine days of fact-finding hearings by the judge, during which the accuser did testify.

Observers believe it will not be an easy ruling to overturn on appeal, if prosecutors decide to pursue it.

Others believe a relatively weak prosecution case became a lot weaker as a result of the judge's ruling, and expect some moves to be made toward a plea-bargaining deal. In fact Judge Ruckriegle ended his eight-page ruling by extending the "plea negotiation deadline" in the case.