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Colorado lawmakers consider changes to rape shield law

Colorado lawmakers consider changes to rape shield law
Colorado lawmakers consider changes to rape shield law 02:01

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand protections for accusers in rape cases, but opponents say the bill goes too far.

It limits what evidence juries get to hear.

Right now, if the accuser and accused were in a sexual relationship before or after the alleged rape, it's considered relevant to the case. Under the bill, a judge would decide whether or not the jury gets to hear about it. The bill limits other potential evidence as well, including whether the accuser has a history of making sexual assault allegations. The jury would only hear about that if the allegations were made in bad faith or proven to be false. Defense attorneys also couldn't ask alleged victims about how they were dressed, unless a judge decided it was relevant.

The Colorado District Attorneys' Council is behind the bill that it says will help ensure victims feel safe reporting a sexual assault and aren't put on trial themselves.

"This idea that if you are wearing tight clothing or you're wearing a short skirt you're more likely to be assaulted is just not true," says Jessica Dotter, the sexual assault resource prosecutor for the DAs' Council. "And it's used as a way to blame the victim.   

Dotter says the bill is aimed at making sure only relevant evidence is admitted in court and, she says, it would bring Colorado's rape shield law in line with other states.

Tristan Gorman, the policy director for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, says the bill reads more like a presumption of guilt and — if passed — would make Colorado's rape shield law among the most restrictive in the country.

"If you've got evidence that somebody texted you and said, 'Hey, come on over to my place," and then they, not only, answer the door just wearing lingerie and nothing else," Gorman said, "but when you come inside, they voluntarily remove all of their own clothing, the defense is not allowed to bring that up in front of the jury under the language of this bill." 

The bill will get its first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday Feb, 27. 

RELATED: Colorado state lawmakers to discuss bill giving more protections for sexual assault victims

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