Rape shield law limited

The Supreme Court of Nevada last week clarified a point of law on Nevada’s rape shield law, which prevents an alleged rape victim’s sexual history from being admitted in evidence in court.

Sonia, the guardian of 14-year-old J.M., contended in a civil complaint that J.M. was raped by 20-year-old Amir. Amir said the sexual encounter was consensual. Amir asked the court to order a medical examination of J.M. Sonia objected, invoking the shield law’s protection for J.M. The court case was halted so Sonia could take an emergency appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

“Sonia F.’s petition raises an important issue of public policy related to the applicability of Nevada’s rape shield law to civil proceedings,” the court’s opinion read. “We conclude that NRS [Nevada Revised Statute] 50.090 is plain and unambiguous and applies only to criminal proceedings and not to civil actions.”

But the court also found that courts can limit the admissibility of a victim’s sexual history: “Nevertheless, in civil sexual assault cases, we conclude that discovery should not be unlimited. Rather, the district court should use its sound discretion to determine whether the discovery sought is consistent with NRCP [Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure] 26(b)(1), which provides that inquiries must be relevant and ‘reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.’ ” (The lower court will now use the opinion to decide how to proceed in the J.M. case.)

The case, Sonia F. v. District Court, is posted at www.nevadajudiciary.us/index.php/advanced-opinions.html