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The Christian Science Monitor | In Police Shootings, Should Trials Re-Examine A Victim's Past?

(07/14/2016) Generally, rules of evidence prohibit introducing evidence about the character or character traits of either a defendant or a victim in order to prove that the person acted according to that trait during a particular incident, says Viktoria Kristiansson, an attorney-advisor at AEquitas, a Washington, DC-based organization that trains prosecutors in handling cases of sexual violence.

“A lot of the times this is confusing for the public because they’re used to watching shows like ‘Law and Order’ and ‘CSI.’ where — through the magic of scripted television — character evidence about traits ends up coming in [to a trial]” she tells the Monitor, though she notes that there are some exceptions.

In cases of sexual assault, attempts to introduce evidence that discredits a victim are often more strictly prohibited by so-called rape shield laws, Ms. Kristiansson adds. [ . . . ]

In many cases, prosecutors often function as gatekeepers of the evidence that is included about a crime victim, says Kristiansson, a former prosecutor.

But she adds, with the growth of victims’ rights laws and other protections, “I think practices are starting to catch up a little bit to laws that are already in place.”

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