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Changes to state law could alter sex crimes defendants' rights

Missouri officials are promoting the use of a new amendment to the state constitution, which would allow prior criminal acts to be used as evidence in certain sex crimes proceedings. The legal changes, which are supported by groups such as Protect Missouri Children, could compromise defendants' rights by releasing additional information about their criminal pasts during sex crime trials. Missouri is currently one of the most restrictive states when it comes to defendants' rights, protecting nearly all alleged child predators from having to reveal their prior convictions or arrests.

Officials say they are supporting the changes, largely because they believe that perpetrators should not have the right to legal protections if they are accused of assaulting several children. Those accused of multiple instances of child sexual abuse may be acquitted in one case, even as they are convicted in another concurrent case, sometimes because of a lack of evidence. This would seal the legal loophole that allows that to happen, according to legislators.

For example, a sex crimes defendant could be facing multiple allegations of assault against children of varying ages. If the older children are able to provide more convincing testimony, but the younger kids' cases are not as strong, then the offender may not be convicted on all counts. This new legislation could allow previous or concurrent violations to be brought to light during all of the trials, which would ostensibly increase the likelihood of conviction.

Even those defendants who are accused of sex crimes against multiple victims have the right to a fair, unbiased trial. These legislative changes have not yet been passed -- but they could have a significant impact on defendants' rights if they are officially approved. Criminal defense attorneys may be able to provide additional information on the consequences of this pending legislation for those who are currently accused of sex crimes.

Source: The Sedalia Democrat, "Local authorities endorse change in sex crime evidence" Pat Pratt, Aug. 27, 2014

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