In today’s episode Colby Kanouse goes into greater detail about Character evidence. He explains why in sex offense cases, character evidence can be used to show that a defendant has aberrant sexual propensity.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Colby Kanouse and I am an attorney here at Chuck Franklin Law. The purpose of this video is to sort of clarify some of the issues that Chuck touched on in his recent video regarding character evidence.
Now, if you watched Chuck’s video you would know that he basically described the general rule on character evidence. The general rule is that you don’t get to use evidence of prior acts in order to show that a person has a certain character trait and that they probably acted consistent with that character trait on the day of the incident. What this basically means is that you can’t use character evidence in order to show that someone is a bad guy or a good guy and that they therefor acted like a good guy or a bad guy on the date of the events or accident, whatever it happens to be.
To give you an example, lets say that a person is charged with burglary and they’ve been convicted of two prior burglaries. The state doesn’t get to use the two prior convictions in order to show that this guy is a burglar and therefor it is more likely that he burgled this house on this date. There are exceptions to that though. You can use prior acts evidence for something other than proving character. In other words you can use it to show identity, modus operandi, knowledge, plan, absence of mistake or accident. Really you can use the other acts of evidence for pretty much any purpose other than showing a person’s character.
Let’s go back to my burglary example. Let’s say that the defendant is charged with burglary and that in his case the front door was broken into with a lock-pick set. Let’s assume that that defendant has two prior burglary convictions, which both arose out of burglaries where both houses were broken into using lock-picking sets. In that situation, the state could use those prior acts, the acts of breaking into those houses with the lock-pick sets in order to show that this defendant knows how to use lock-picks. They can use that in order to argue that it is more likely that he committed the burglary at issue.
Now, let’s talk about an exception to the general rule on character evidence. Like we said before, you can’t use prior acts in order to prove a certain character trait for the purpose of showing that they acted in conformance with that personality trait on a specific occasion. That is the general rule, and when I say general rule that means there are exceptions to that rule. The exception comes about in sex offense cases.
In sex offense cases, if a person has a long history of perverted acts, the state can use those acts in order to show that he has an aberrant sexual propensity, and then they get to argue that because he has that sexual propensity it is more likely that he acted in conformity with it on the date of the offense which he is charged with. To give you an example, we will use the Cosby example since that is the one that Chuck used. During the Cosby trial, obviously Cosby was accused of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. Her allegation was that he drugged her and then had non-consensual sex with her while she was unconscious.
Some of you may have watched that trial or read about it and if you have you would know that during that trial the state brought in a bunch of Cosby’s accusers and they all told essentially the same story. Because that was a sex offense case, the state got to use all of those prior acts in order to show that Cosby had an aberrant sexual propensity; in his case that he liked having sex with unconscious women without their consent. They then got to argue with that evidence that it was more likely that he did that to Andrea Constand.
Obviously under the general rule that is not allowed, but under the exception for sexual offenses, it was allowed. I would also note that all of that prior act evidence in the Cosby trial also could have come in for another reason. Mainly that it established a modus operandi which made it more likely that Cosby was the attacker who had un-consensual sex with Andrea Constand. In other words, he did it the same way every time, it was his signature move so to speak. Because it was his signature move, it is more likely that he is the one that did the same signature move to Andrea Constand.
Folks, this is short. It is sort of a complex subject. I hope that that clarifies things for you. If not, we will make another video about this soon.
At any rate, thank you for watching. Have a great day.