The concept of dual court systems in the USA may not have achieved the desired intention – justice for all. There are separate state courts and separate federal courts. It means that justice systems may vary from one state to another. The federal states hear civil and criminal cases as dictated by the federal constitution while the state courts deal with cases within different states. As it is, there are no harmonized constitutions within the state courts. It can make some cases ‘punishable’ in some states, and ‘non-punishable’ in others.
The case in point that looks at this scenario is one that involved Jerry Sandusky, who was wrongfully convicted of rape charges through DNA implications. The laws that men made historically tipped scales of justice against women victims of rape. Such accusations can easily be made, but are harder to be defended by the accused party. Jerry Sandusky was innocent, yet the state courts could not accord him a fair hearing (Phelan 12-14). In countries that adhere to Islamic laws, convictions for such charges can only be made if four male witnesses testify. Where the female victim fails to provide proofs of rape, she will be stoned to death for committing adultery or fornication.
The Maryland’s law is unfair and old-fashioned. It is especially unfair to the rape victims and to the judges presiding over the cases. They believe the words of the claimant much more than to the defendant as was the case in Jerry Sandusky’s rape case. The defendant in the case alleged that the sexual act had been consensual. With no eye witnesses, the case lacked validity from the very beginning, yet the accused was still convicted of rape charges. The judges at Maryland decided to judge the case on the basis of the defender’s word against the accuser’s. The state had a greater burden to prove that Jerry Sandusky was guilty beyond reasonable doubt (Maryland Constitutional Law Schmooze, & University of Maryland at Baltimore 192). They had no practical choice over the accused other than acquitting him of the charges when he was later found to be innocent.
In similar cases, especially in child sexual abuse cases, when a defendant denies such crime, the federal court sometimes relies on the fact that the defendant has committed similar cases before, assaulting similar victims. The court also permits joining trials for such cases. Such was the case pitting Pennsylvania State against Jerry Sandusky. In contrast to the state court system in Maryland, the federal courts normally allow trials for more than one such crime simultaneously. They do not allow evidence used in one crime during the trial for another. It makes the courts in Pennsylvania not trustworthy. “If the courts cannot be trusted, it follows that the judges too cannot be trusted. The case of Sandusky revealed the misappropriation that ‘Justice in blind’” (Fisher et al. 2012). If the crimes were committed in Maryland, chances are higher that Jerry would not have been convicted.
Recently, Nelson Clifford was repeatedly acquitted. He has had four different trials for sexual assaults involving four women (he broke into their homes at night). He was implicated by DNA evidence, so he could not deny the charges. He testified that he met the women during live charts or at restaurants. According to him, the women had agreed to have sex with him. The judges at the Baltimore City objected to the motion to try ‘several similar cases’ together or admit evidence in some of the cases being tied together. There was a testimony from just a single victim; nothing about other cases. The judges were thus restricted in their capacity to gauge with reasonable facts, the credibility of the victim and the defendant (Maryland Constitutional Law Schmooze, & University of Maryland at Baltimore 191).
The applicable evidence rule 5-404 is not quite restrictive. The evidence rule parallels corollary rules of other states, as well as pre-1995 federal rules, which can allow past similar evidence of an accused to be used on current cases. They ought to base their judgment on the intent or motive of the defendant, as opposed to basing their judgments on their bad characters. The Maryland’s court systems believe that the admissibility of such cases is quite narrow. Where the judges convict defendants after the trial, they have admitted additional crime evidences relating to the sexual assault cases, the convictions are always reversed (Fisher et al. 2012). The decisions made by the court automatically allow other sexual assaults’ evidence against the same victim.
The Court of Appeals’ decisions automatically allow only evidence of other sexual assaults by the defendant against the same victim. The evidence needs to be “convincing and clear proof”. The trial judges should be allowed to use only those evidences that can be proved beyond doubt to avoid being prejudicial to the defendant (Emmelman 2007). Until the cases were critically assessed by activists, court trials on sexual assaults and rapes always rule in favor of victims. The defendant was often given little consideration in an act that was largely viewed as prejudicial to the defendant. Till now, the General Assembly and the Court of Appeals have opposed liberalization of the Maryland law, notwithstanding the fact that federal courts have taken an enlightened approach.
Federal Rules of Evidence 413-415 render evidence of additional similar child molestation or sexual assaults to be assumed admissible, but with prior notice to the defendant (Emmelman 2007). It is however subject to safety valves of Md. Rule 5-403 that allows the trial judges the discretion not to include evidence that would be prejudicial to the defendant.
The above cases depict a scenario, where defendants were convicted based on the past similar evidences. There could not have been a consensus between different trial judges, as each of them applied the law as governed by the state constitutions they came from. It is the greatest undoing of the dual-court system. The path for change will be the Court of Appeals, which is not necessarily aligned with defense of prosecution.
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