What is the test for admitting or excluding evidence of prostitution in a sexual assault case?

California, United States of America


The following excerpt is from People v. Solorzano, D065368 (Cal. App. 2015):

"'A trial court's exercise of discretion in admitting or excluding evidence is reviewable for abuse [citation] and will not be disturbed except on a showing the trial court exercised its discretion in an arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd manner that resulted in a manifest miscarriage of justice.'" (People v. Brown (2003) 31 Cal.4th 518, 534.)

Here, as the trial court indicated, its discretion was constrained by California's rape shield statutes, which limit the use of evidence of the prior sexual conduct of victims of forcible sex crimes. (Evid. Code, 782, 1103, subd. (c); see People v. Chandler (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 703, 708.) "While strictly precluding admission of the victim's past sexual conduct for purposes of proving consent, Evidence Code section 1103, subdivision (c)(4), allows the admission of evidence of prior sexual history relevant to the credibility of the victim. Because the victim's credibility is almost always at issue in sexual assault cases, Evidence Code section 782 specifies a procedure requiring an in camera review of the proffered evidence to diminish the potential abuse of section 1103, subdivision (c)(4). The defense may offer evidence of the victim's sexual conduct to attack the victim's credibility if the trial judge concludes following the hearing that the prejudicial and other effects enumerated in Evidence Code section 352 are substantially outweighed by the probative value of the impeaching evidence.

"By narrowly exercising the discretion conferred upon the trial court in this

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screening process, California courts have not allowed the credibility exception in the rape shield statutes to result in an undermining of the legislative intent to limit public exposure of the victim's prior sexual history. [Citations.] Thus, the credibility exception has been utilized sparingly, most often in cases where the victim's prior sexual history is one of prostitution. [Citations.] Evidence the victim participated in a form of prostitution is conduct involving moral turpitude which is admissible for impeachment purposes. [Citation.] Prostitution is a crime of moral turpitude. [Citations.]" (People v. Chandler, supra, 56 Cal.App.4th at pp. 708-709, fn. omitted.)

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