Maryland House approves measure allowing courts to consider past acts in sexual assault cases

The House of Delegates unanimously approved long-sought legislation Monday that will allow judges to admit evidence of a defendant’s past behavior in trials for sexual assault.

Passage of the bill sets up a conference committee with the Senate, which has passed a different version of the bill. In previous years, similar legislation failed in the House Judiciary Committee.

The legislation comes in response to cases in which defendants with a history of prior attacks have been able to avoid conviction by arguing that their victims had consented to sexual activity. One of the leading proponents of the bill, sponsored by Democratic Del. Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard County, is Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.

Supporters contend the bill includes safeguards to ensure that any evidence of past acts is relevant to the question of innocence or guilt rather than prejudicial. Under the bill, such evidence can only be admitted if the defendant contends there was consent or that the allegation of assault was fabricated by a minor. Prosecutors would have to give the defense 90 days’ notice that they intend to introduce such evidence.

The measure has the support of Gov. Larry Hogan, who submitted a different version of the legislation.

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