In November, Missourians will have the opportunity to vote for or against a state constitutional amendment that many in the legal community believe could threaten some defendants’ right to a fair trial. Specifically, Amendment 2 would allow for propensity evidence, defined by the amendment as “relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged,” to be used against individuals accused of child sex crimes.

In other words, a prior allegation that was never prosecuted or otherwise substantiated could be used against a defendant if the amendment is passed. This kind of evidence was already ruled inadmissible by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2007, but there is currently a push to give judges discretion to allow or disallow propensity evidence in cases involving allegations of child sex abuse.

The amendment would also allow defendants’ prior convictions to be used to support testimony in court.

Supporters of the amendment emphasize that judges would still have discretion to decide whether or not propensity evidence would prejudice a jury. However, cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse tend to be emotionally charged, and there is concern that the nature of the allegations may sway judges to allow propensity evidence when it should not be admitted.

The reality is that not everyone who is accused of a child sex crime is guilty. Sometimes allegations are falsified, and anyone accused of a crime must be presumed not guilty unless material evidence is presented to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

An article in the Columbia Missourian has more on the important debate over Amendment 2.