Lawmakers want child molesters' history used in court
â??For about eight years I tried to stay away from him, but he always found a way to trap me.â?? These are words from a woman who relives the story of her molestation for years starting at the age of nine by a neighbor. She talks about how he made her believe she was the person in the wrong.
There are cases like this every day all over the United States.
In 2007, the Missouri State Supreme Court ruled that Donald Ellison was unfairly convicted of first-degree child molestation in a child rape case. During Ellisonâ??s trial, the jury was able to hear that he had a prior conviction of first-degree sexual assault.
The Missouri State Supreme Court ruled that bringing his prior conviction into evidence was unconstitutional because it goes against the Missouri State Constitution, which prohibits admission of previous criminal acts as evidence of a defendantâ??s propensity.
Currently, there has been a movement to amend the state constitution and allow evidence of prior convictions or allegations of sexual abuse.
Adair County Prosecutor Matt Wilson said this is a good thing.
â??Generally, the only time you can use prior convictions is if the defendant takes the stand in his or her own defense. Then, you can use that to what we call impeach them,â?? Wilson said. â??If the defense raises some type of mistake â?¦ mistake of identity, age (or) that it can't be them because itâ??s impossible, (and) you have evidence that it can be them because they have done it in the past, then you can bring (the prior convictions) in.â??
People who are against amending the law said allowing prior convictions as evidence, will go against the rights of the accused.
â??Currently, under the Missouri Constitution the Missouri State Supreme Court has ruled that it does violate their rights,â?? Wilson said. â??Under the U.S. Constitution, thatâ??s not the case. So, thatâ??s why theyâ??re trying to amend the state constitution.â??
The proposed amendment would only deal with child sex crimes.
Wilson said there are studies that show most sex offenders are repeat offenders.
â??Someone doesn't wake up at the age of 86 and decide 'I'm going to molest a child'. There are acts in a personâ??s past that are consistent with child abuse (and) child sexual abuse. There are studies that show child perpetrators have multiple victims on a regular basis, so it's not a single act,â?? Wilson said.
â??The reason why itâ??s so important in child sexual crime is because consenting adults don't like to speak about what's going on in their bedroom, or private time amongst other adults. So, certainly it's reasonable to believe that children are not going to feel comfortable talking about those things ... especially when they've been threatened or given promises. Theyâ??re not going to feel comfortable about talking about that in front of other adults. Thatâ??s why they've written it just for these types of crimes.â??
What the amendment is asking is for the judge to decide if previous allegations against a defendant could be used in a trial.
â??All it says is that we now can let the judge determine if what we call a probative value... the beneficial value, the education value, related to this defendant would outweigh what would be the prejudicial against the defendant,â?? he said. â??And, if the judge weighing those factors and looking at the totality of the picture can determine that it is the probative then he or she would allow us to move forward with that evidence. If they feel that it would be overly prejudicial, then they could still keep that evidence out.â??
Wilson said this would be beneficial to prosecuting a child sex case because the cards are already stacked against the child.
â??When children are being preyed upon, often times theyâ??ve been what we called â??groomedâ??,â?? Wilson said. â??Over a period of time theyâ??ve developed a friendship with their perpetrator somehow. Maybe itâ??s a family member, maybe itâ??s a close friend of the family, and so thereâ??s a process that goes to groom them so that they seem to think that this is okay, or that itâ??s expected that they have to do it, so thatâ??s one thing that they have to overcome.â??
He said if it is a family member or close friend it can cause tension in the family.
â??If they do finally come forward, and theyâ??ve overcome the fear of threats â?¦ then they are put to where they then have to, usually, tell some adult, then they are usually going to talk to law enforcement or a child interview person, then often times they have to give a testimony in a preliminary hearing of some sort, then theyâ??re going to have to give a deposition, then theyâ??re going to have to testify in front of people in court,â?? he said. â??I know several adults who hate going to court, it scares them...now imagine being a ten year old child. And, itâ??s the fifth time youâ??ve had to go through and tell people whatâ??s happen, and meanwhile the defendant gets to sit quietly. Then, what we end up doing as a system is ultimately re-victimizing the victim. So, this is basically just to try and get the scales of justice back up a little bit; to where if you have someone who is repeatedly doing these things, to at least give a total picture of what is going on rather than leaving this young child out there by themselves.â??
Wilson said the amendment has already been cleared by the Missouri House and now they are waiting to see what the Senate does.