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Long-sought bill targeting serial rapists passes Maryland legislature, goes to Gov. Hogan

Long-sought bill targeting serial rapists passes Maryland legislature, goes to Gov. Hogan
A bill long-sought by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby that would allow past behaviors of accused sexual predators to be presented against them at trial. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Accused sexual predators who claim that their adult victims consented to sex will now face the possibility that evidence of their past behavior can be presented against them at trial under legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday.

The Maryland Senate voted unanimously to approve the legislation long sought by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. Gov. Larry Hogan has endorsed the bill and plans to sign it.

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”I am so ecstatic that the time is finally up for serial sexual predators,” Mosby said. “We have closed a loophole for those predators claiming consent.”

Maryland law does not currently allow prosecutors in rape and sexual assault cases to present evidence of previous acts by defendants that could prove a pattern of behavior. The legislation authorizes judges to allow such evidence under certain circumstances: when a defendant admits to sexual acts but claims a victim consented, or when a defendant accused of molesting a minor claims the child fabricated the incident.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, noted that the Republican governor has proposed versions of the legislation this session and the year before. Chasse said Hogan “is extremely pleased that this common-sense policy that has garnered widespread bipartisan support for years will finally become law.”

The legislation includes several provisions that supporters say will protect defendants’ rights. Prosecutors will have to give 90 days’ notice that they intend to introduce evidence of past acts. Judges will hold pretrial hearings to determine that there is “clear and convincing” evidence that other attacks occurred, and whether to allow it in court. The court must decide if the evidence’s value outweighs the possibility that it would unfairly prejudice a jury.

Sen. James Brochin, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the bill is “a game-changer for every state’s attorney” in Maryland.

“I can’t think of a better way to end 16 years in the Senate,” Brochin said. The Baltimore County Democrat is stepping down to run for county executive.

Mosby, a Democrat, said she has been seeking such legislation since 2013, even before she was elected state’s attorney. She said she was motivated by the case of Nelson Bernard Clifford, who was tried for four sex attacks in Baltimore in three years and acquitted each time.

The juries in each of those cases never heard about the other accusations. In each trial, Mosby said, the “well-groomed’ Clifford was able to persuade the jury that the sex was consensual.

“It was he said versus she said,” Mosby said.

She said Clifford, a previously convicted sex offender, followed a pattern of targeting African-American women in their homes in neighborhoods around Reservoir Hill. He would regularly leave his DNA behind, Mosby said, but was able to explain it to juries by claiming the women were prostitutes.

Clifford was convicted of a sexual assault in a fifth trial and sentenced to 31½ years in prison.

In previous years, the legislation stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. But this year, with a heightened focus on women’s rights in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the committee approved it.

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