Under Maryland law, generally evidence of prior bad acts independent of the crimes for which a defendant is charged, even if they show a crime of the same type, are not admissible in evidence to prove that the Defendant is guilty of the crimes alleged.
There are exceptions to this rule, which were explored by Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in an unreported opinion delivered this week called Tyrom Ballard v. State of Maryland.
The Court’s opinion indicates that the defendant was charged with multiple crimes allegedly arising from sexual encounters with his half-sister when he was 22 and she was 16.
The evidence showed that the victim and the defendant shared the same father, and lived together then she was about 4 and he was about 10.
Years later when defendant briefly resided with his sister, they engaged in sexual activity that the defendant admitted at trial occurred, but claimed that his sister initiated.
The sister was allowed to testify over objection at trial that when she was very young, the defendant had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with her.
The jury convicted the defendant of sexual abuse of a minor and two counts of incest, and defendant appealed challenging the admission of testimony about the sexual acts that occurred when they were children.
The Court noted that one exception to the rule precluding evidence of prior bad acts involves sexual activity between the same victim and defendant.
The evidence must show a propensity for the defendant to have sexual contact with that particular person, must be established by clear and convincing evidence, and its probative value must outweigh any prejudice to the defense.
Here, the Court agreed with the trial judge that this exception applied, as the persons involved were the same, and the conduct in the past was very similar to that charged in the case.
The fact that the acts happened when they were children, the Court found, did not outweigh the probative value in allowing the jury to decide who was credible on the issue of who initiated the sexual activity charged.
The Court noted that this evidence was harmless to the defense in any event, as he admitted the sexual activity charged and was not convicted of any use of force or violence.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.