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Maryland House panel OKs bill allowing evidence of past acts in sex assault trials

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in February a bill into law that enables women impregnated by rapists to end the parental rights of their attacker. Hogan also supports a bill that would allow evidence of past acts in sex assault trials
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed in February a bill into law that enables women impregnated by rapists to end the parental rights of their attacker. Hogan also supports a bill that would allow evidence of past acts in sex assault trials (Brian Witte / AP)

Proposed legislation to allow judges to admit evidence of past acts in trials of defendants accused of sexual assault has cleared what may be its biggest hurdle.

The House Judiciary Committee, where similar legislation has failed many times before, approved a version of the bill Thursday.

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The measure, sponsored by Howard County Democratic Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, now goes to the House floor. Supporters say it is needed to make sure serial sex predators don’t get away with their crimes because evidence showing a pattern of behavior can’t be admitted.

The Senate has already given preliminary approval to its version of the bill. It is expected to receive final passage Friday.

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Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation Tuesday that would allow the termination of the parental rights of fathers when a court finds the child was conceived in rape.

Both versions of the bill would allow evidence of acts similar to those the defendant is charged with committing to be introduced at trial to counter a claim that sexual activity was consensual.

Gov. Larry Hogan has strongly supported the bill along with House Republicans and caucuses representing women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, vice chairman of judiciary, said the bill passed in a “meaningful” form with relatively minor changes. The Montgomery County Democrat said the committee added language providing that defendants can cross-examine past accusers in a hearing before evidence is presented to a jury.

Dumais said the House will have to go to a conference committee with the Senate because the two versions are very different. Passage of the bill by both houses doesn’t guarantee that negotiators will reach agreement before the session ends April 9.

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