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Previous Convictions Can Show Propensity in Sexual Assault Cases

Posted on in Criminal Law

Previous Convictions Can Show Propensity in Sex Assault ChargesIllinois courts do not allow prosecutors to present a defendant’s prior convictions as evidence of his or her propensity to commit the same crime. Juries are instructed to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence based on the evidence related to the current charge. Showing someone's propensity to commit a crime is the prosecution's way of trying to convince a jury to convict a defendant because he or she is a bad person. However, Illinois law makes an exception for sex offenses. Prosecutors can use a defendant’s prior sexual assault conviction as evidence in an ongoing sexual assault case.

Recent Decision

An Illinois appellate court recently denied a defendant’s contention that prosecutors should not have been allowed to use his prior rape conviction as evidence in his sexual assault case. In 2012, the defendant was charged with and eventually convicted on three counts of criminal sexual assault for allegedly entering the home of a 21-year-old woman and forcibly having sex with her. The defendant had previously been convicted for the home invasion and gang rape of a 62-year-old woman in 1982, for which he served 25 years in prison. During the 2012 case, the trial court allowed the prosecution to submit the 1982 conviction as evidence of the defendant’s propensity to commit sexual assault. The court dismissed the defendant’s claim that the evidence would prejudice a jury. The defendant then requested a bench trial, and the court found him guilty, sentencing him to life in prison. In the appeal, a majority of the appellate judges upheld the lower court’s decision.

Legal Reasoning

When determining whether to allow a prior conviction to be used as evidence in a sexual assault case, Illinois law instructs the court to weigh the value of the evidence against its potential for prejudicing a jury. Factors include:

  • The recency of the prior conviction;
  • The similarity between the conviction and the current charge; and
  • Other relevant facts.

In its majority decision, the appellate court stated that both incidents shared a similar method of operation and brazenness in how the defendant committed the sexual assault. The 30 years between the incidents was not as significant as it appears because the defendant was in prison for most of that time, unable to demonstrate that he no longer had a propensity to sexually assault members of the opposite sex. However, a dissenting judge stated that the two incidents were different enough that the prior conviction should not have been used as evidence. He stated that the evidence could prejudice even a judge, so the case should go to retrial.

Fair Trial

Preconceptions about the defendant can bias jurors in cases such as sexual assault. A McHenry County criminal defense attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, will make sure that decisions made in your trial are based on facts from the case. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.



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