Committee Reports

Statement on Legislation that would allow evidence of a defendant’s prior sexual offense to be admissible in a sexual assault proceeding

SUMMARY

The Criminal Courts Committee and the Mass Incarceration Task Force issued a statement on a bill that would allow evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts to be admissible in a sexual assault proceeding. The law proposed in response to the reversal of the verdict against Harvey Weinstein “shifts 100 years of law in this state that governs the balance between protecting the presumption of innocence and allowing juries to hear relevant evidence of past crimes.” The statement urges lawmakers not to hastily pass legislation in response to a single unpopular decision but, rather, to take time to consider the effects of such legislation. “The New York City Bar Association does not, however, discount the need for those who abuse their power to be held accountable. We recognize that victims of sexual violence too often are failed by our system of justice. We stand with survivors of sexual abuse, and continue to support thoughtful changes to our system to ensure justice for all.”

BILL INFORMATION

A.4992-B (AM Paulin) / S.9276 (Sen. Gianaris) – Allows evidence of a defendant’s prior sexual offense to be admissible in a sexual assault proceeding (NYS 2023-24).

REPORT

STATEMENT ON LEGISLATION THAT WOULD ALLOW EVIDENCE OF A DEFENDANT’S PRIOR SEXUAL OFFENSE TO BE ADMISSIBLE IN A SEXUAL ASSAULT PROCEEDING

(A.4992-B AM Paulin and S.9276 Sen. Gianaris)

June 7, 2024

The presumption of innocence is the foundational principle of the American criminal justice system. Our law has been shaped to protect this presumption for all Americans.

The law proposed in response to the reversal of the verdict against Harvey Weinstein shifts 100 years of law in this state that governs the balance between protecting the presumption of innocence and allowing juries to hear relevant evidence of past crimes. The proposed law allows prosecutors to introduce into evidence accusations of past bad acts by defendants in sexual assault cases without the careful guardrails that have been developed over decades by courts to ensure that this type of evidence—which can easily lead to wrongful convictions—is only presented to a jury for appropriate reasons.

Such a change should be carefully and thoughtfully discussed and crafted, not expedited in response to a single unpopular decision. All too often, we rush to legislate in response to an especially infamous crime, with harmful long-term effects that are inevitably borne by people who are neither rich nor powerful.

The New York City Bar Association does not, however, discount the need for those who abuse their power to be held accountable. We recognize that victims of sexual violence too often are failed by our system of justice. We stand with survivors of sexual abuse, and continue to support thoughtful changes to our system to ensure justice for all.

Mass Incarceration Task Force
Tess M. Cohen, Chair

Criminal Courts Committee
Carola Beeney and Anna G. Cominsky, Co-Chairs