A group of Missouri law enforcement officials have officially endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment designed to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes against children.
Under current law, juries in Missouri can only hear about a defendant's prior offenses during the sentencing phase of a trial, regardless of the type of crime committed. If passed, Constitutional Amendment Two would allow evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in cases where the defendant is accused of a sex crime against someone younger than 18. It would also include evidence of past criminal sexual activity even in cases where the defendant was not convicted or not charged with a crime. Eric Zahnd is prosecuting attorney for Platte County.
"The federal government (and) other states specifically allow this information to be provided to juries, but because of a couple of Missouri Supreme Court decisions, Missouri juries hardly ever get to know that a sexual predator may have abused other children in the past … and in my opinion that’s wrong," Zahnd said.
Amendment Two, originally known as House Joint Resolution 16, was initially approved by Missouri lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. Earlier this year Gov. Jay Nixon ordered it placed on the November ballot.
"It's wrong to make children who have been through some of the most horrific sexual abuse you can imagine go it alone with a jury," Zahnd said. "Juries deserve to know the full story, the full truth, about a sexual offender."
Zahnd says he knows of no active opposition to the ballot measure.
The Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Missouri Chapter of the ACLU were both contacted for this story, but so far neither has responded with comments. The Associated Press reported that attorney Kim Benjamin, a past president of the lawyers association, said the proposed amendment is not a good idea because it could result in more wrongful convictions.
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