Last month, we wrote about a proposal backed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby which would prevent judges from excluding from trial evidence that a defendant committed prior sexual offenses when admitting such evidence would be unfairly prejudicial to a defendant. Under that proposal, judges would only be able to exclude evidence of prior offenses in cases where a specific finding is made by the court.
This proposal, we noted, is controversial in that it would make it easier for prosecutors to use a defendant’s criminal history against him or her at trial. As we’ve pointed out, the law as it currently stands provides a degree of protection to defendants who have been wrongly accused.
One of the cases Mosby has cited heavily in reference to the issue is that of Nelson Bernard Clifford, who was convicted earlier this month on charges of third-degree sexual assault. In his case, the conviction came after multiple acquittals involving other victims. Prosecutors, because of Maryland’s laws of evidence, were unable to introduce evidence of other cases to show a pattern.
Mosby commented on the recent case that, while it was a victory to celebrate, there is still a need to change the law to allow prosecutors to introduce prior accusations against sex offenders at trial. This, of course, is arguable.
From a defense perspective, it is important that the evidence introduced at trial is not given undue weight. Prior accusations, even where they may show a pattern, do not necessarily amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In any case, it is critical for those facing sexual assault charges to work with an experienced attorney to help build the strongest possible case. This is particularly important when the defendant has a criminal history.