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Monday, September 25, 2023

Staff Editorial

New bill could turn trials into witch hunts

The Texas Senate has given initial approval to a bill that has the legal world in an uproar.

The bill would allow juries in sexual assault trials to hear testimony about previous allegations towards a defendant, even if the testimony did not result in charges or a conviction.

The bill was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and was tentatively approved 23-8 Monday. But the implications of the bill has defense lawyers and prosecutors alike scratching their heads.

“Defense attorneys believe it makes the trial more about the character of the defendant than whether they committed the act for which he is on trial,” UH law professor Adam Gershowitz said in the Houston Chronicle.

Gershowitz also said that prosecutors can use previous incidents as a method of disproving the sexual conduct in question was consensual, a far too common claim.

Although the bill would give prosecutors more tools to catch sexual predators, the amount of power granted is simply too large. Trials are the foundation of our legal system — and any person, regardless of the situation, is innocent until proven guilty. Allowing unproven testimony in a court of law is irresponsible. No person should ever be convicted for a crime they did not commit, much less a crime that could not even be brought to trial.

Houston defense attorney Pat McCann agrees.

“With all due respect to Senator Huffman’s sincere commitment to protecting victims of violent crime, this is probably one of the worst ideas that any senator has ever come up with,” McCann said in the Houston Chronicle.

“It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing to convict people on past allegations, not convictions, not even charges. This is an unnecessary solution to a non-existent problem.”

When an issue of this magnitude comes up to vote, legislators need to think about the repercussions of passing such a bill before voting it through Congress. This is a deadly and serious piece of legislation — innocent people could be jailed for life or even put to death from unfair convictions.

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