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Mosby mounts late push for sexual assault legislation

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby is mounting a last-minute push for legislation that would help prosecutors' win convictions against accused repeat sex offenders, but the chairman of a Senate committee where the bill is stalled said the effort isn't going anywhere.

Mosby is pushing Senate Bill 933, which was sponsored by freshman Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Harford County Republican. The bill would allow evidence of previous sexual assault allegations to be brought in to criminal trials, which Mosby says would bring state law more in line with federal rules.

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"Maryland has seen far too many rapists escape justice because of current law," Mosby wrote in an op-ed published in The Sun.

On social media, her office was also encouraging people to contact Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee.

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Zirkin said the bill had "lots of problems" and called it a "very dangerous piece of legislation."

"I want to make sure every single rapist goes to jail for a long, long, long time," Zirkin said. "That being said, the state's attorney's bill would make it very, very easy to convict an innocent person. There has to be a balance under the law."

This is the second year Mosby has pushed the legislation. Cassilly is the only sponsor of this year's version, and there is no companion bill filed in the House of Delegates.

Mosby's push is tied to the case of Nelson Bernard Clifford, who has been acquitted at trial four times on sex offense charges since 2010.

In each case, Clifford took the stand and said the sex was consensual. The jurors heard 911 calls of the victims screaming for help, and DNA matched Clifford to the crimes. But his account on the stand introduced enough doubt to win acquittal.

Jurors in each case were not able to know of Clifford's prior allegations, because the jury could only decide whether he had committed the crime for which he wason trial. The prior allegations are considered prejudicial to that process.

Clifford is currently in jail awaiting additional trials. Before his fourth acquittal, two cases against him that had been dropped in 2007 due to weak evidence were revived by prosecutors in a move to keep him behind bars.

Prosecutors attempted to have the two cases tried jointly in front of a jury, arguing Clifford had a "modus operandi" that linked the allegations, but Chief Judge Alfred Nance denied the motion. The cases will be heard in May.

Mosby criticized former State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein for the way the previous cases were handled, and challenged him to personally try Clifford.

"The State's Attorney must rise to the occasion and try Nelson Clifford's fifth rape trial," Mosby said in an email to campaign supporters in October 2013. "Win, lose or draw, women in Baltimore deserve to know that the State's Attorney's [sic] is fully invested in the outcome of this case."

In arguing for the legislation, Mosby invoked Darren Sharper, the former NFL player charged in a series of sexual attacks across the country.

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"Federal lawmakers realized more than twenty years ago that the rules of evidence should require special exceptions to protect the public from people like Darren Sharper," Mosby testified in March.

Zirkin, the Baltimore County senator, said the "modus operandi" law is sufficient, and he "can't imagine why, based on the facts of [Clifford's] case, that they couldn't get that evidence in."

"As I read the law, those past acts should have gotten in, under the existing law," he said.

But Zirkin warned of "bad cases making bad law."

"That would be a prime example of a really bad case making really bad law," Zirkin said. "That's why people aren't in support of it."

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