Let Juries Decide Relevance
I listened to recently retired Detective Sergeant Dave Henwood on Morning Report with Kathryn Ryan this morning.
Mr Henwood was responsible for establishing criminal profiling in this country and helped capture serial rapists Joseph Thompson and Malcolm Rewa.
Mr Henwood strongly argued for greater admssibility of "similar-fact" evidence in court.
"Similar-fact" or "patterns-based" evidence is evidence that shows a defendant has a pattern of past similar behavior.
Many would argue that the three former policemen accused of raping Louise Nicholas, would not have been aquitted, had the jury been made aware that two of the defendants were currently in jail after being convicted of similar offences.
Currently, "similar-fact" evidence can only be admitted under certain circumstances and then only at the judge's discretion.
Mr Henwood made the point that serial sexual offenders in particular are acting out fantasies when they commit their crimes and tend to follow very specific patterns of behaviour.
Therefore "similar-fact" evidence should rightly be used to back up the complainant's testimony.
Personally I would go further. Admit any evidence that the prosecution deems important and let the jury decide its relevance.
Its ridiculous to say that only facts directly related to the particular offence be admissible.
A person who has been convicted for five armed roberries committed while wearing a "Zorro" mask and carrying a meat cleaver, is more likely to commit a similar offence than anyone else.
If he is on trial for a robbery carried out under similar circumstances, it is grossly unjust that a jury should be denied information on his past behaviour.
Juries should have the power to decide relevance, not judges.