JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Prosecutors in Missouri could use evidence of past criminal behavior in child sex abuse prosecutions under a proposed state constitutional amendment approved Friday by the state Legislature.
The measure would allow use of relevant evidence of past criminal acts to corroborate a victim's testimony or to demonstrate the defendant has a propensity to commit the crime with which he or she now is charged. That type of evidence would be limited to prosecutions of crimes of a sexual nature in which the victim was younger than 18.
"It would help stop sex abuse of children," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who sponsored the measure in the Senate.
House members approved the measure 131-26 on Friday after senators passed it 30-2 on Thursday. Voter approval will be required to enact the measure.
A state task force created in 2011 to focus on preventing child sex abuse in Missouri recommended among other things that the Legislature pass a constitutional amendment allowing for such evidence. The task force said in a January report that perpetrators sometimes claim they were drunk or have no memory of sexual contact. The report said there often is no physical evidence in sex abuse cases and that in those instances it becomes the child's word against the adult's.
The constitutional amendment is required because the Missouri Supreme Court previously struck down a state law that allowed prior sex offenses to be used against defendants facing similar new charges. A unanimous court ruled in December 2007 that using evidence of previous crimes to prove a defendant's propensity to commit a crime "violates one of the constitutional protections vital to the integrity of our criminal justice system."
Missouri's original 1994 law dealing with such evidence was struck down by the high court in 1998. That prompted lawmakers to pass the revised version two years later, and that was rejected in 2007.
The statute says that for sexually oriented criminal charges involving a victim younger than 14, the courts can admit evidence that the defendant has committed other sexual crimes involving children younger than 14 to show "the propensity of the defendant to commit the crime" unless "the trial court finds that the probative value of such evidence is outweighed by the prejudicial effect."
Child sex abuse evidence proposal is HJR16.