It seems every two years the Texas legislature comes up with new shockingly-stupid ways to muck up criminal law. A prime of example of this year’s early favorite in this category is SB 12 (which it’s author, Sen. Joan Huffman, tried to peddle last session to no avail), which would allow prosecutors to use evidence of past crimes during the guilt/innocence phase of trial when trying cases against alleged child molesters. (Thanks to Grits for Breakfast for the great Texas Lege coverage.)

Look, I know it’s easy to beat up on people charged with sex crimes, especially when kids are involved. They’re an easy target. But in case Sen. Huffman is forgetting, not everyone charged with a crime is guilty. That’s why the law has rules that give both the prosecution and the defense a fair, even trial. Under the rules of evidence, the only thing that’s relevant in a guilt/innocence phase of trial is evidence of the allegation on trial. It doesn’t matter if the defendant is a saint or a sinner, whether he’s got a criminal history a mile long or if he is squeaky-clean. That stuff clouds the jury’s judgment of guilt/innocence. The only relevant question is: “has the prosecution proven their allegation with relevant evidence?” The law forbids “once a criminal always a criminal” evidence because it’s highly unreliable. If a jury finds a defendant guilty, then they can hear evidence of the person’s past in determining punishment.

Let’s keep the rules of evidence uniform and not carve out niches where the rules don’t apply to a certain subset of defendant because we really, really want the prosecution to get a conviction. Allowing the Lege to put it’s fingers on the scales of justice to affect the outcome is unconscionable.

View All Blogs