A parade of witnesses who dredged up Michael Jackson’s history with boys were allowed by a California law that permits prosecutors to prove sex-crime cases with lurid stories from a defendant’s past, the Los Angeles Times reports. Overturning decades of common law, the California legislature agreed in 1995 that sex crimes against minors – which often pit the word of a child against that of an adult – were so hard to prove that admitting evidence of a defendant’s past helped even the playing field. Critics protested that the law went against the traditional proposition that a defendant is tried for specific offenses, not for his overall character and past.
In 1999, the California Supreme Court upheld the law, which was modeled on a federal statute that covers crimes on federal land. At least a dozen states, including Texas, Illinois, and Arizona, have similar laws. “That’s how we prove their conduct, with their prior conduct from the pool of victims they were able to molest,” said Los Angeles Police Department investigator James Brown of the sexually exploited child unit. “Most child sex abuse is committed in privacy, with little physical evidence and little or no witnesses, so the [prior] conduct is important. Norman Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney in New York, said such laws make it possible “to prove a case with very little or no evidence. It doesn’t seem to be very fair. It doesn’t seem to be very American, to tell you the truth.”