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Saturday, December 20, 2014

New bill a ‘powerful tool to imprison sex offenders’

Amendment 2 would allow past cases to be used in court.

In the upcoming general election, voters will have many important decisions to make, one of which might make it easier to prosecute sex offenders.

The action, Missouri Evidence in Sexual Crimes Against Minors or Amendment 2, would allow prosecutors who are trying a case against an alleged child sex offender to use relevant past criminal activity as evidence against the defendants.

This means that if an alleged sex offender had been accused, but not found guilty, of a past crime, a prosecutor could still introduce the record of that accusation to the court as evidence against the defendant under Amendment 2.

The amendment has been seen as controversial, as it might make it easier to reach a guilty verdict in those types of cases.

“Due to some Supreme Court decisions, prosecuting attorneys were unable to try many cases of child sexual abuse in our state,” Rep. John McCaherty, R-Mo., said. “As a member of the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, I see the amendment as a positive step to give prosecutors the tools they need to protect our children, and to see those that prey on them prosecuted. There has been no opposition to this legislation, and I was proud to sponsor it.”

McCaherty is the primary sponsor of the amendment, which recently received approval from the Missouri House of Representatives to be placed on the ballot in November.

McCaherty said he felt the bill would address an important gap in Missouri’s justice system, giving prosecutors a powerful tool to imprison sex offenders.

He said there should be no violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which forbids double jeopardy, secures the right to a grand jury and protects against self-incrimination, or the Sixth Amendment, which includes the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the rights to a lawyer and an impartial jury and the right to know who your accusers are.

“Of course there have to be safeguards in place as well, so a defendant can receive a fair trial,” McCaherty said. “Not all evidence is relevant to every trial. This is the responsibility of the judge to determine the relevance in each case.”

The amendment has gained local attention and a Protect Missouri Children Committee formed to support the measure. The group believes that the amendment will protect children and aid in putting dangerous criminals behind bars.

The group is co-chaired by St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd. Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson is the group’s treasurer.

According to the group’s website, www.protectmissourichildren.com, Dankelson believes that the passage of this amendment is crucial.

“Passing this constitutional amendment is probably the most important thing we can do to protect Missouri children from the most dangerous child sex predators,” Dankelson said in a news release.

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Article comments

Sept. 3, 2014 at 4:59 a.m.

Paul Smith: New bill "a powerful tool to convict innocent men". There are enormous risks in this legislation. Rumours and past allegations have no place in the courtroom unless the goal is to convict an innocent man. The purpose of a trial is to use the evidence surrounding the alleged act, not to bring up the past. This was the problem for female complainants in rape cases, that their own past was used to claim that she was promiscuous. This is exactly the same.

Sept. 3, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

Lance Martinez: I am not an attorney or in any capacity involved in the justice system with any formal law education, however, I am reasoning that to use a prior criminal case trial verdict has no relationship to a separate and completely nonidentical-not the same-individual- and mismatched case trial that would certainly prejudice a new case trial proceedings, most likely negatively impacting the outcome of a case, and unfairly, I might add. It seems to me that to include a prior criminal case, whether the accused was found not guilty or guilty is bringing into play a criminal court proceedings that determined a verdict based on that case alone. To introduce a prior tried criminal case into a new trial criminal case seems to me to be a puzzle piece that does not belong in the new case and is used in an to attempt to guarantee the prosecutor an unfair advantage and unfair conviction. Furthermore, simply because other states or the federal government introduces prior convictions in a case does not make the procedure legal, constitutional, just or fair. There are many laws on the books that are not constitutional or legitimate to be used in a Missouri sex crime case. By the way who cares what political party prosecutor Phillip Sawyer belongs? Is this again an attempt by Mr. Sawyer to again try and persuade the public to support his misguided and feeble legal argument and support of overturning amendment 2 ?

Sept. 3, 2014 at 9:52 p.m.

Duane Webb: An unproven accusation is not admissible 'evidence' for two reasons: (1) an unproven accusation is not a form/type of evidence, it's an accusatory statement (2) an unproven accusation has not been proven, and thus is not a confirmed/validated fact. This proposed amendment is blatant legislative fraud - a nasty, fat, political lie intended only to subvert procedure and presumed innocence.

Sept. 3, 2014 at 10:09 p.m.

Katrina: Are you insane?! This is the worst possible legislation. It takes away everything America stands for and throws it in the trash. Of course prosecutors want this "tool" (which not a tool but a constitutional and human right taken away) because it absolutely WILL make it easier to prosecute ANYONE for a sex crime and win a conviction. Lots more innocent people will go to jail due to false accusations which are very common from divorcing spouses, ex girlfriends, girls and women afraid to admit they had consensual sex, students trying to get back at teachers, and just about anyone with a grudge. Police will tell you that 80% of the accusations they get are false. Even if someone did cross the line before, it doesn't mean they crossed the line again with the current charge. Each accusation should be proven on its own. This is not a "gap" to be fixed. It is part of justice to protect the innocent. Do NOT vote for this lunacy. If you do, expect yourself and your children to soon be registering as sex offenders then expect this "tool" to be used for all other types of crime as well.

Sept. 3, 2014 at 10:43 p.m.

Vicki Henry: Rep. John McCaherty,we know that this a political year and this is the epitome of pitiful political posturing. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005), in 2003 there were 75,573 cases disposed of in federal district court by trial or plea. Of these, about 95 percent were disposed of by a guilty plea (Pastore and Maguire, 2003). While there are no exact estimates of the proportion of cases that are resolved through plea bargaining, scholars estimate that about 90 to 95 percent of both federal and state court cases are resolved through this process (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005; Flanagan and Maguire, 1990). There are a few theories as to whether the plea bargaining process is fair and equitable. Proponents argue that docket pressures are too great and that prosecutors lack the time to pursue all indictments because there are simply too many (Stuntz, 2004). These studies have found the following: 1. Defendants tend to receive harsher sanctions if they exercise their right to a jury trial. 2. There is a wide range of prosecutorial discretion, and this varies greatly by region. 3. Punishment is determined by the seriousness and type of offense, prior criminal history, and the contextual characteristics of the court, including caseload volume, court community size, violent crime rates, and size of the region’s black population. Overall, the majority of evidence illustrates that those who accept a plea are likely to receive a lighter sentence compared with those who opt for a trial. This disparity exists because prosecutors are granted wide discretion when reducing charges. These findings are problematic because they demonstrate that if a defendant opts to invoke the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, he or she will likely have a more unfavorable outcome. So, please tell me again why this collaboration of the our legislative body is necessary to protect the public? When you start using accusations as a means of punishing a citizen you have, without question, crossed the line and are using the public fear to do so which is unconscionable for most but evidently not all... Vicki Henry, Women Against Registry dot com

Sept. 4, 2014 at 1:34 a.m.

karl knutson: Why not open this set of rules to all cases? If you have been accused and found not guilty use at everyone's trial.

Sept. 4, 2014 at 12:42 p.m.

Derek Logue: Imagine for a moment you are a man who was falsely accused of molestation in the past. You weren't charged but was a "person of interest," enough for it to be a mention on the internet. You are free and you know you didn't do it. Fast forward a few years, and you date someone; everything starts off great but you have a falling out. Your ex-lover is angry and one day she searches you online and finds an old headline where you were a "person of interest" in a "child molestation" case. She goes to the cops and claims you raped her or touched her kids. You are arrested, go to court, and now, thanks to Amendment 2, this false allegation will be used against you. Would you support this bill knowing that it could lead to more innocent people going to prison over false allegations? More truth at oncefallendotcom

Sept. 4, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.

Sandy Rozek: is proposed legislation must be defeated. In the area of sexual crime and accusations of sexual crime, false accusations and wrongful convictions are frequent enough to create a significant problem. This legislation will increase this problem many-fold and make a mockery of what is left of our justice system.

Sept. 4, 2014 at 10 p.m.

Vicki Henry: Here is a thought....Eric Holder,in a news conference today said the Department of Justice will review the law enforcement practices in Ferguson and St. Louis County so, maybe we could ask them to review this piece of legislation as endorsed by the Missouri legislators, Governor Nixon and County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to determine how it would impact the citizens of Ferguson as well as all other Missouri citizens.

Sept. 5, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.

Christopher: Courts have long since used a prior criminal history to weigh in on the sentence imposed and on this level, the Bill, if passed, will not change the way judicial processes are done. That said, however, this Bill effectively serves to deter any innocent person from exercising their due process right to a fair and impartial trail because it will create fear within a defendant that if they go to trial then they will have their past used against them to obtain a guilty verdict in the current charge. By definition, this eliminates due process in that of having a fair and impartial trail as the Bill, if voted into law, will severely taint the judicial process against anyone accused of a sex crime. It will eliminate the required "beyond reasonable" doubt burden of proof standard and replace it with "presumption of guilt" instead based on prior allegations, charges, and convictions. This sort of law is not and at least for the time being, will not be imposed upon any other class of defendant because simply put, Americans would never tolerate such. Of course, in all probability it will be voted into law because of the free for all hate society is encouraged to hold against sex offenders.

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