Alaska Rape Shield Statute

Alaska rape shield statute, AS 12.45.045. The rape shield statute sets up a procedure to ensure that in a prosecution for sexual assault, evidence of a victim's previous sexual conduct will be admitted into evidence only when the trial judge has previously reviewed the evidence and determined that it is relevant. But, as we explained in Napoka v. State 996 P.2d 106 (Alaska App. 2000), "the rape shield statute does not exclude relevant evidence." In Napoka, we dealt with a similar issue: whether a sexual assault victim's prior relationship with the defendant was relevant. The trial judge in Napoka had excluded the evidence of the victim's prior sexual contact with Napoka on the ground that it was excluded by the rape shield statute. We reversed the trial judge's ruling. We concluded that the evidence of the prior relationship was relevant to whether the victim, N.A., had consented to have sex with Napoka and whether, even if N.A. did not consent, Napoka might have believed that N.A. consented: N.A.'s prior sexual conduct with Napoka was clearly relevant to the two issues confronting the jury: (1) whether, as a factual matter, N.A. consented to have sex with Napoka on the three occasions identified in the indictment, (2) whether, even if N.A. did not consent, Napoka nevertheless reasonably believed that she did consent (in other words, whether Napoka acted "recklessly" with respect to the fact that N.A. was not consenting to the sexual penetration). The disputed evidence was relevant, not because it showed that N.A. had engaged in sexual activity before, but rather because it showed that N.A. had engaged in sex with Napoka before. If, as the defense claimed in its offer of proof, Napoka and N.A. had a long history of consensual sex, this fact would obviously be important to the jury's proper decision of these two issues. The relevance of the disputed evidence does not hinge on any inference concerning N.A.'s character. The evidence is important, not because of what little it may reveal about N.A.'s willingness to engage in sexual activity in general, but because of what it reveals about N.A.'s relationship with Napoka -- specifically, her willingness to engage in sexual activity with Napoka -- and how this might have influenced Napoka's perception of whether N.A. consented to the sexual activity during the three incidents charged in the indictment.