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September 12, 2005 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-12

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NEWS

The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 12, 2005 - 7A

State will allow past allegations in sex offense cases

LANSING (AP) - It is a staple of
criminal law that a defendant's past behav-
ior is generally off limits during trial.
The reasoning is that jurors should
not convict someone for being a "bad
guy" but instead base their decision on
evidence in the case before them.
But an exception would be made in
cases involving alleged sexual crimes
against children under legislation that
has unanimously passed the Legislature
and that Gov. Jennifer Granholm has
said she will sign.
Supporters say sex offenders have
a compulsion to rape or molest again,
citing recent high-profile abductions
and killings of children in Florida
and Idaho.
Prosecutors say the measure would
help jurors receive all the relevant infor-

mation - including a defendant's back-
ground and character - to ensure that
guilty people are convicted.
"Especially when it comes to sex
offenses, history is a big predictor of
the future," said Sen. Alan Cropsey, a
DeWitt Republican who is sponsoring
the proposed rule change.
But opponents, mainly defense law-
yers, think the change will lead to hor-
rible results.
"You're basically going to convict
everybody charged, or darn close
to that," said F. Martin Tieber, past
president of the Criminal Defense
Attorneys of Michigan. "There are
a lot of false allegations in criminal
sexual conduct cases."
The bill, also sponsored by Repub-
lican Rep. David Law of West Bloom-

field, is part of a multi-bill package
aimed at preventing sex offenders from
getting near children in schools and day
care centers.
It would amend Michigan's court
rules in cases where defendants are
accused of sex crimes against youths
under age 18. Prosecutors could intro-
duce testimony that a defendant had
committed another sex offense against
a minor - including offenses for which
the defendant was neither charged nor
convicted.
The new rule resembles federal court
rules, enacted 10 years ago, that allow
prior conduct to be admitted in child
molestation and sexual assault trials.
Backers routinely cite the federal policy
as a reason for making the change.
But practically speaking, sex crimes

are rarely prosecuted at the federal level,
leading detractors to argue that a rule
change will be quite drastic in Michi-
gan. At least one other state, California,
has a similar rule.
"You're adding more people to our
prison system who probably didn't
commit the particular crime they're
charged with even though they may
have done bad things in the past,"
Tieber said.
By allowing past behavior to be used
as character evidence there is a clas-
sic danger of unfairness, he said. Past
behavior already can be used in limited
circumstances to show motive or intent,
but that's not the same as character evi-
dence, he said.
Tieber noted that jurors think the
defendant is probably guilty if he has

a propensity to act criminally. The
question should be, "Did the defendant
molest his accuser?" But it becomes, "Is
the defendant a child molester?"
Add in the reality that many people
are naturally repelled by charges of
sexual conduct against vulnerable
children, and the defendant is in trou-
ble, Tieber said.
But prosecutors point to Califor-
nia as proof that jurors can be fair.
There, a jury heard past allegations
that pop star Michael Jackson molest-
ed or had designs on five other boys.
They found him not guilty in the case
before them.
"Juries will put the evidence in the
context that is deserved," Livingston
County Prosecutor David Morse said.
"As a rule, I have confidence in the intel-

ligence and wisdom of the jury."
Morse, who pushed for the rule
change on behalf of the Prosecuting
Attorneys Association of Michigan,
noted that just because evidence can be
introduced doesn't mean a judge will
allow it.
He also said prosecutors are at a dis-
advantage in sex-related cases involving
minors because children's memories
are not as developed as adults, and they
can be reluctant to testify, especially
against family members.
"For a full examination of the
truth, you ought to be able to take
in the context of a person's past
behavior to explain current behav-
ior," Morse said. "Among the most
egregious crimes are sex offenses
against children."

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