Sunday, February 19, 2006

On A Cold Sunday Afternoon

Writers’ Block? Not Exactly.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, unlike Kevin Smith I really do have a boring-ass life. I am sitting here, at a loss for something to write about. Not that there are all that many of you looking in these days, but for the occasional lost soul who drifts by, I’d like to think there is something worthwhile, or at least mildly amusing/interesting/diverting on these pages. Preferably something related to the Law. But I just keep coming up dry.

Sex Crimes. That’ll Wake ‘Em Up!

Well, here’s one. For the lawyers and enthusiastic amateurs out there -- How does your state handle other acts evidence in sexual assault/child molestation cases? That is, how do you cope with “lustful disposition” evidence, as some states call it? I refer, of course, to evidence of similar acts.

Does your state have either a formal rule, like FRE 413 and FRE 414 that explicitly allows evidence of similar acts to prove the defendant’s propensity to commit such acts, or a court made exception, often referred to as the “lustful disposition” exception, to the general rule that evidence of a defendant’s character may not be introduced to prove he acted in conformity with that character? See FRE 404 for the usual codification of this rule.

Or do you fall back on the state equivalents of FRE 403 to generally bar such evidence as more unfairly prejudicial than probative?

This is a topic near and dear to the hearts of sex crimes prosecutors everywhere. Particularly those who specialize n crimes against children. When you’ve got a recidivist on trial for sexual assault on a child, evidence that he (it’s almost always he in these cases) has done the same thing before is a powerful tool in proving the case. That’s why the general rule is to bar such evidence. We worry that the jury may convict on less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt because the defendant is a very bad man and shouldn’t be walking around. This is the reason courts are leery of other acts evidence in the first place. Particularly when the other act is a similar crime.  They worry about the natural tendency of jurors, as reasonable human beings, to say to themselves “well, he did the same thing before, it’s likely he did it this time, too.”

1 comment:

Gib said...

My state (Georgia) is fairly permissive, or so I've heard, compared to other states. Similar transaction evidence requires notice to the defendant, and a ruling by the judge that the defendant did in fact commit the similar act, that the act will only be admitted for a particular purpose (scheme, bent of mind, course of conduct), and that the similar act is sufficiently similar to the alleged act so that proof of one tends to prove the other. Proving the similarity probably requires the testimony of live witnesses to the prior act (you couldn't just use a certified copy of a prior conviction).

There was a pretty famous Georgia murder case where it was used - a woman had two boyfriends/husbands who died several years apart as a result of, I believe, antifreeze poisoning. She was never charged with the first death until the second death occurred the same way - the state used the similar transaction evidence to convict her of murder.