Proposed legislation in both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate would allow evidence of prior sexual offenses to be admitted as evidence in a current sex offense criminal trial. If passed, the bill would allow prosecutors to more easily play on the emotions of the jury, possibly leading to an unfair trial of the defendant.
The Proposed Legislation
Senate Bill 1674 and Assembly Bill 501 are similar pieces of legislation, with the Senate version being introduced originally by Senator Jeff Van Drew, a democrat from District One. The bills would allow prosecutors to enter evidence of prior sex offenses as evidence in a defendant’s current trial. Currently, evidence of past crimes is generally not admissible at trial.
Sex offenses that would be subject to the proposed law are sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual conduct, aggravated criminal sexual conduct, fourth degree lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct that would impair the morals of the child.
The bill’s authors based the legislation on a current California provision and believe the law is necessary due to what they claim are uniquely high rates of recidivism among sex offenders.
A judge must review the prior sex offense evidence before it can be used at trial. If the judge finds the evidence admissible, it may be used to shape the jury’s opinion of the defendant.
Impact of SB 1674 on Sex Offense Defendants
Unfortunately, the proposed legislation would allow prosecutors to use the defendant’s past behavior to sway the jury. When prior sex offense evidence is admissible in current trials, the jury can become distracted from the actual offense being tried, focusing instead on the defendant’s character, not the facts – which is why past crimes are generally not admissible currently.
If Senate Bill 1674 and Assembly Bill 501 pass, it will be absolutely crucial for those accused of sexual offenses to seek the expertise of an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you or a loved one has been charged with a sexual offense and are worried past evidence may be used against you, please contact a competent New Jersey criminal defense attorney.