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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. MacBale, — P.3d —, No. CC CR1100933, SC S060079 (Or. July 25, 2013).

July 25, 2013

NCVLI participated in this case as amicus curiae in support of the government’s opposition to defendant’s petition before the Oregon Supreme Court.  NCVLI argued that Oregon crime victims’ state constitutional rights to justice, protection and privacy, and to be treated with due dignity, respect and fairness—as well as their federal constitutional rights to privacy and to access the courts—required in camera procedures for rape shield hearings.  NCVLI further argued that holding such hearings in camera helps to ensure that Oregon’s criminal justice system protects both crime victims’ rights and defendants’ rights. 


Defendant, charged with sexually assaulting a former employee, requested an evidentiary hearing under the state’s rape shield statute to determine the admissibility of evidence of the victim’s prior sexual conduct.  After the trial court denied defendant’s request that it open the statutorily mandated in camera hearing to the public, defendant filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting that the Oregon Supreme Court direct the trial court to hold a public hearing.  Defendant argued, inter alia, that the rape shield statute’s mandatory in camera procedure violates the open courts clause under the state constitution and his right to a public trial under the state and federal constitutions.  The Oregon Supreme Court rejected defendant’s arguments.  First, the court concluded that the rape shield statute’s in cameraprocedure does not violate the state constitution’s open courts clause, as the prohibition in the clause—which provides that “[n]o court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase”—is not absolute and does not apply to all court proceedings.  The court found that a rape shield hearing is not a hearing that “administers justice” within the meaning of the open courts clause because the purpose of the hearing is not to determine guilt or innocence but to screen for “presumptively irrelevant” evidence.  The court observed that closure of rape shield hearings only “deprive[s] the public of exposure … to private, irrelevant facts” about a victim’s prior sexual history, whereas opening the hearings “could potentially further victimize an already vulnerable witness” and “make the ‘complete’ administration of justice … more difficult, if not impossible.” Second, the court concluded that the in cameraprocedure does not violate defendant’s right to a “public trial by an impartial jury” under the state constitution.  In reaching its conclusion, the court determined that this constitutional right only concerns “the trial itself” and does not require pretrial rape shield hearings to be open to the public.  Lastly, the court concluded that the in camera procedure does not violate defendant’s right to a “public trial” under the Sixth Amendment.  In reaching its conclusion, the court recognized that the United States Supreme Court has held that the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial extends to pretrial proceedings that are considered “‘an integral part of the trial’ and ‘involve the values that the right to a public trial serves.’”  The court considered the values as described by the federal courts and determined that “those values are not implicated” by the rape shield proceedings.  The court also observed that “a rape victim who is examined about the details of her personal sexual background may be less likely to be forthcoming if forced to discuss the matter in open court.”  For these and other reasons, the court dismissed defendant’s petition for a writ of mandamus.