Amendment 2 on Missouri November ballot focuses on prosecution of child sex crimes

Amendment 2 on Missouri November ballot focuses on prosecution of child sex crimes
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Amendment 2 on the November ballot in Missouri aims to constitutionally protect the right to allow prior evidence to be admissible in a courtroom during child sex abuse cases.

Current Missouri statute allows prior evidence to be admissible in court in sexual crimes involving victims under the age of fourteen.

Amendment 2 now aims to constitutionally protect that right and extend it to sexual cases for victims under the age of eighteen.

Supporters of Amendment 2 say it would better protect child abuse victims.

“It would allow us, if somebody has an incidence of prior sexual abuse, we could use that in their current trial even if that prior sex abuse wasn’t charged,” said Dean Dankelson, Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney.

Opponents argue it could be an infringement on citizen’s rights.

“What this law will really allow the prosecution to do is to really play on the emotional strings of a jury because now it’s not did he do the crime, it’s he’s a bad person,” said Roscoe Miller, criminal defense attorney in Joplin.

Dankelson says testifying on the stand can be a traumatizing experience for a child and that he or she deserves to be protected as much as possible.

“In most child sex abuse cases there are two witnesses, the perpetrator and the victim,” Dankelson said. “The victim is young, immature, we need to do whatever we can do to bolster them and to help them in cases where they’ve been sexually abused.”

Sponsors of the bill say a judge must first approve any prior evidence before it is admissible in the courtroom.

“It can’t be a surprise on the defendant,” Dankelson said. “It has to be something previously disclosed and ruled on by a judge before it’s admissible.”

Criminal defense attorney Roscoe Miller argues relevance is a very low standard when it comes to what a judge will rule as admissible, which he says could result in higher trial costs due to a higher amount of evidence.

“We’ve really gotten away from innocent until proven guilty, especially with these uncharged, unconvicted allegations,” Miller said.

Dankelson argues the prior evidence could sometimes be what makes or breaks a case.

“If it makes our case stronger, it may result in a plea negotiation where they get a longer sentence or there are all sorts of positive impacts that could happen to benefit that child,” Dankelson said.

Opponents of the measure say constitutional amendments should be initiatives of the citizens rather than used as tools by the legislature.

Supporters argue Amendment 2 is important because other prior instances or victims often come forward when a child sexual abuse crime is reported.