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Virginia Bill Allows Disclosure Of Prior Offenses For Accused Child Sex Offenders

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A defendant in Virginia who has been charged with committing a sex offense against a child may have his previous convictions used against him in court under legislation being considered by the State Crime Commission.

Excluding evidence of prior convictions or a reputation is based on the premise that a defendant should be tried on the facts of what he's currently accused of, not what he's done in the past.

Bill sponsor and Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) said that when the victims are children, it's challenging for juries to discern who is telling the truth and they want to know about a defendant's character.

"You have the argument that the kid is a liar. And would this be the kind of person? That's the issue before them," Bell says. "And I think to the common person, the answer is not 'Yes, not sure,' but  'You're out of your mind, of course it is.' That would be the single most important thing. The single most important thing in the entire world is the one thing that we tell the jurors they can't hear."

But a member of the public, Mary Devoy, disagreed.

"Justice is supposed to be blind," Devoy says. "But when it comes to sex crimes, it seems we are willing to throw away all checks and balances put in place to prevent assumptions, personal opinions, or agendas from contaminating a fair system."

The bill currently would not require admission of such evidence, but would allow the judge to weigh whether it's prejudicial or relevant and should be admitted.

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