The Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Schley, No. 124 WDA 2015 (February 19, 2016), holding that Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law does not prohibit the introduction of prior false sexual assault allegations made by the complainant at a trial for Endangering the Welfare Children.


Schley and her husband are the adoptive parents (and aunt and uncle) of the complainant. The complainant testified that, on a few occasions, while she was a minor and residing at the Schley residence, Schley’s husband made her touch him sexually. The complainant claimed that she informed Schley of these assaults on more than one occasion. The complainant stated each time she informed Schley, Schley would then ask her husband if the complainant was telling the truth about the assaults. According to the complainant, Schley’s husband denied all of the accusations, after which Schley did nothing, and never called the police.

In October 2013, the Commonwealth charged Schley with Endangering the Welfare of Children (“EWOC”), graded as a first-degree misdemeanor. Prior to trial, Schley filed a Motion in Limine, seeking to introduce at trial evidence of the complainant having previously made three false sexual assault allegations against non-family members. On December 18, 2014, Schley’s case proceeded to a non-jury trial. Before trial commenced, the trial court denied Schley’s Motion in Limine, ruling that the defense could not introduce into evidence the false sexual assault allegations, pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law (“RSL”).

The complainant was Commonwealth’s sole witness at trial. Schley testified in her own defense, maintaining that that complainant never informed her that Schley’s husband had sexually assaulted the complainant. At the close of trial, the trial court found Schley guilty of EWOC, and immediately sentenced her to serve three years of probation. Schley appealed.


Did the trial court commit reversible error by excluding from trial evidence of false sexual assault allegations on the basis that the evidence was barred by the RSL where the proffered evidence was probative of a number of material issues in the case?


The trial court erred as a matter of law in ruling that the RSL prohibited Schley from introducing the false sexual assault allegations at trial; the such ruling was not harmless; and, the ruling prejudiced Schley by inherently affecting her overall theory of defense and trial strategy.


The Superior Court first reviewed the purpose of the RSL, stating that the RSL was enacted to prevent a trial from shifting its focus from the culpability of the accused to the virtue and chastity of the victim and, to exclude irrelevant and abusive inquiries regarding prior sexual conduct of sexual assault complainants.

Schley argued that the false sexual assault allegations were admissible because (1) the RSL, by its plain language, does not apply in a prosecution for EWOC; (2) the proffered evidence does not concern the complainant’s past sexual conduct; and, (3) the proffered evidence was relevant and material.


Schley argued that because the sole crime for which she was being prosecuted, EWOC, is not contained within the Sexual Offenses Chapter of the PA Crimes Code, the RSL did not apply to her prosecution.

After applying a statutory construction analysis to this question, the Superior Court concluded that the RSL was unambiguous and the scope of the RSL was limited to offenses charged under the Sexual Offenses chapter of the Crimes Code.


The Superior Court relied upon a PA Supreme Court decision to conclude that the RSL was not intended to prohibit the evidence Schley wished to introduce because the evidence did not concern past sexual conduct of the victim that would reflect upon her reputation for chastity. In other words, the word “conduct” in the RSL statute is not intended to include prior false allegations of sexual assaults. In this case, because the false sexual assault allegations did not concern the complainant’s past sexual conduct, the RSL did not prohibit such evidence.


Lastly, the Superior Court addressed the issue of whether the proffered testimony was relevant and material under the rules of evidence. Evidence of a prior false allegation of sexual assaults is admissible only if is relevant and material under the traditional rules of evidence.

In this case, the false sexual assault allegations were relevant and material, because they were probative of an element of the crime at issue as well as the complainant’s lack of credibility. Specifically, Schley was charged with the specific intent offense of EWOC for failing to report the alleged sexual offense of the complainant. And, evidence of the complainant’s propensity to fabricate claims of sexual assault was directly relevant to Schley’s state of mind in responding to what Schely perceived to be yet another false allegation from the complainant. Want’s more, the complainant’s lack of credibility was also relevant because her testimony was the only evidence presented by the Commonwealth.

In conclusion, the Superior Court was persuaded by Schley’s assertion that the denial of her Motion in Limine by the trial court inherently affected her overall theory of defense and trial strategy, including, among other things, her decision whether or not to testify.

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