JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri law enforcement groups are teaming up in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that they said Tuesday could make it easier to gain convictions or guilty pleas in child sexual abuse cases.
The November ballot proposal known as Constitutional Amendment 2 would create an exception to the general prohibition against using evidence of past crimes against defendants facing new criminal charges.
It would allow past criminal acts – even alleged crimes that didn't result in convictions – to be used to corroborate victim testimony or demonstrate a defendants' propensity to commit such crimes when people face sex-related charges involving victims younger than 18.
"This is a measure that I think everybody who supports Missouri's kids ought to be in favor of," said Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, a past president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Zahnd also is co-chairman of the Protect Missouri Children committee formed to support the measure. State associations representing prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs all expressed their support Tuesday for the amendment.
The proposal, which was referred to the ballot by the Legislature, is a backlash against a December 2007 Missouri Supreme Court decision that struck down a state law allowing evidence of past sexual crimes to be used against people facing new sex-related charges involving victims younger than 14.
The court said using prior acts to show a defendant's likelihood of committing an alleged crime violates state constitutional protections meant to ensure that people are tried only for the offense with which they are charged.
"Evidence of prior criminal acts is never admissible for the purpose of demonstrating the defendant's propensity to commit the crime with which he is presently charged. There are no exceptions to this rule," the court said in a unanimous decision written by then-Judge Michael Wolff, who now is dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law.
Zahnd said federal courts and some other states already allow evidence of past criminal acts and that Missouri's court precedent is the most restrictive nationally.
The campaign for the Missouri ballot measure has been relatively low-profile so far. As of the end of June, the supporting committee reported having a little over $1,300 in its campaign account.
There is no organized opposition group registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Officials at the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers did not immediately respond to phone messages Tuesday seeking comment.