It all started with an email from a concerned mother who lives here in Jefferson County. Distraught and disappointed by the way our legal system operates, she contacted me to share her story. It was a story that brought tears to my eyes as I read her account of the sexual abuse her daughter suffered. My own disappointment equaled hers as I learned that no criminal charges were filed against the abuser despite the fact the six-year-old victim was able to describe in detail the abuse she endured. The story not only opened my eyes, but also inspired me to do something to make certain these kinds of injustices don’t continue here in Missouri.
My solution to this problem was to file a proposed change to our constitution that would make it easier to prosecute dangerous child sexual predators. If approved by voters, it would allow evidence of past wrongdoing by an alleged sex offender to be admissible in cases of child sexual abuse. By allowing what is known as propensity evidence in such cases we can give prosecutors a powerful tool to put sex offenders behind bars.
Many Missourians may wonder why such evidence isn’t already admissible. The truth is that it is; at least according to our laws. The problem is that made by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2007 established a legal precedent that has since made propensity evidence inadmissible. It’s a change that has made it much more difficult for justice to be served in cases that too often come down to the word of a frightened child being forced to relive a traumatic event versus the word of an adult. It is also a change that has made Missouri the most restrictive state in the nation when it comes to the allowance of propensity evidence.
That is why I was happy to work with the mother who originally contacted me, as well as prosecutors and child advocacy groups, to push for this change. We want to change the standard in Missouri to mirror the standard for child sexual abuse cases used by the federal government and many other states because it can help our prosecutors do a better job of putting sex offenders behind bars. Allowing relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in the prosecution for a crime of a sexual nature involving a child will allow the victim's testimony to be more easily corroborated and give prosecutors the opportunity to demonstrate the defendant's propensity to commit the crime.
This is a step I believe we need to take to protect victims of sexual abuse and I hope the people of Missouri will support this change to our constitution when it appears on the ballot in November of 2014.