In a decision rendered on appeal from an Order of a Bucks County Trial Court, following briefing and argument, a panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that evidence of victim’s prior juvenile adjudication of delinquency for sexual misconduct and evidence of promiscuous environment in which victims lived was relevant to show the victims’ motive to fabricate and to attack victims’ credibility. As such, the Court held that the Rape Shield Law did not preclude admission of this evidence.
Attorney Keith Bidlingmaier, Counsel for the Defendant in the matter, moved to appeal after the trial court granted the Commonwealth’s request to preclude Defendant from referencing the past sexual misconduct of one of the alleged victims. Mr. Bidlingmaier argued that the Defendant was entitled to show that the victims made false allegations against his Client to deflect attention from their own misdeeds.
On appeal, Mr. Bidlingmaier argued that the trial court improperly applied the Rape Shield Law to preclude evidence. Specifically, he argued that these adjudications and the family dysfunction were probative of his Client’s claim that the victims had a motive to fabricate claims of assault.
The Appellate Court Panel agreed and reversed and remanded for a new trial. The State Supreme Court vacated the order, at 611 Pa. 368 (2011), holding that the trial court had failed to apply the correct test for determining the admissibility of such evidence and instructed that because the evidence could be used to show bias or motive, an exception to the Rape Shield Law, the trial court is to determine the admissibility of this evidence at an in camera hearing consistent with the procedures and balancing test first outlined in Commonwealth v. Black, 487 A.2d 396 (Pa. Super. 1985). Thus, the Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Bidlingmaier’s argument that evidence of prior adjudication or misconduct was relevant to show bias or motive to mislead, and rejected the trial court’s decision to bar such evidence in toto.
The Opinion, Commonwealth v. Ruggiano, 14 A.3d 844 (Pa. Super. 2010), may be read here in its entirety.
Keith Bidlingmaier is a Partner at Kardos, Rickles, Hand, & Bidlingmaier, and concentrates on Pennsylvania and New Jersey Criminal Law at all levels, in addition to domestic and general litigation. He can be reached at (215) 970-2755.