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The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Rape

A conviction for rape has serious consequences, including the possibility of a life prison sentence. Additionally, a convicted rapist will be required to register as a sex offender and may, after trial, be indefinitely committed to a “treatment center.”

Elements of Rape

In order to convict a defendant of rape, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant engaged in either natural or unnatural intercourse with the alleged victim; and
  2. The defendant compelled the alleged victim to submit by force or threat of bodily injury and against his or her will.

Natural intercourse is defined as inserting the penis into the female sex organ. Unnatural intercourse includes oral sex, anal sex, and inserting any object into the genital or anal opening of another person’s body. Natural and unnatural intercourse are completed upon penetration, no matter how slight, of a person’s genital or anal opening.

Rape of a Child by Force is a separate crime that is charged in cases where the defendant allegedly raped someone under the age of 16 years old. If there is more than a 10-year age difference between the child and the defendant, a conviction will result in a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Common Defense Strategies

There are many defense strategies in rape cases.

  • Identification - If the alleged victim claims she was raped by a stranger, identification will almost surely be an issue at trial. This defense will be dictated by the physical evidence. If the alleged victim went to the hospital and had a rape kit performed, and the defendant’s DNA was discovered in or around the alleged victim’s genitals, identification will likely not be a valid defense.
  • Consent - This is the most common defense to rape. If the alleged victim consented to the sexual contact while it was happening, the defendant cannot be convicted of rape. Consent can be proven in various ways, including through the defendant’s testimony, the alleged victim’s behavior before and after the alleged assault, and the results of a rape kit (for example, if a rape kit was performed and there was no evidence of bruising or trauma, the defendant would argue that the lack of injury suggested that the alleged victim consented to the sex).
  • Alleged Victim’s Alcohol or Drug Use - In some cases, an alleged victim is so intoxicated on drugs or alcohol that she is incapable of consenting to sex. However, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Commonwealth must prove that the alleged victim was severely intoxicated in order for her to lack capacity to consent. Additionally, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that the alleged victim’s condition rendered her incapable of consenting.
  • Alleged Victim’s Mental Health Records - If the alleged victim has previously received mental health counseling, her treatment records might be admissible at trial. There is a complicated procedure used to determine whether her records will be produced and ultimately shown to the jury. Attorney Spring is experienced in litigating such issues.
  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - Sometimes an alleged victim has her own criminal record, and in some circumstances her convictions might be admissible to impeach her credibility.
  • Bias - The alleged victim in a rape case almost always wants the defendant to be convicted and sent to prison.  Attorney Spring will explore the alleged victim's negative feelings toward the defendant during cross-examination, and then argue to the jury that the alleged victim's testimony should be viewed critically as a result of her biases. 

Rape in the Marriage - Some rape cases involve incidents between people who are married.  An assistant district attorney cannot compel an alleged victim to testify against her spouse in Massachusetts.  If the alleged victim refuses to testify against the defendant, the Commonwealth's case will be dismissed unless the assistant district attorney has independent evidence to establish the crime.  Even if the alleged victim and the defendant are not married, the alleged victim’s feelings about the case will be seriously considered by the assistant district attorney.  Prosecutors usually do not force alleged sexual assault victims to testify against their will.

Some alleged victims have a Fifth Amendment Privilege, which means if they were to truthfully testify in court, they could be charged with a crime.  If the alleged victim hits or otherwise physically attacks the defendant during the incident, she could be charged with assault and battery and therefore cannot be forced to testify at trial.  Attorney Spring evaluates potential Fifth Amendment privilege issues in every case.

Attorney Chris Spring has successfully defended individuals charged with all types of sex crimes. He has experience in cross-examining alleged child rape victims and has successfully filed motions to obtain alleged victims’ mental health records. He has hired a DNA expert to rebut the Commonwealth’s powerful forensic evidence and he has cross-examined the Commonwealth’s DNA experts. Call Attorney Spring for a free consultation. 

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