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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.

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