The House approved Bozeman Republican Matthew Monforton’s proposal to broaden the type of evidence that is admissible in domestic violence and child abuse cases Tuesday.
Monforton argued that juries ought to be allowed to hear about the prior bad acts committed by an accused abuser, acts that are currently considered inadmissible.
“I do not advocate this bill because I trust Montana prosecutors, and I do not advocate this bill because I trust Montana judges. I advocate this bill because I trust Montana juries. Our citizens are perfectly capable of sifting through the evidence, if they're presented with that evidence, and finding the truth.”
Monforton claims his bill is inspired by the 1995 murder trial of O. J. Simpson, in which past domestic violence accusations were excluded. He says California now allows past bad acts to be entered into evidence in such cases, and Montana should do the same.
But the bill drew opposition from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Helena Democrat Jenny Eck says it would allow too much evidence from the past to be entered, including charges that did not result in a conviction.
“What this bill does is it allows past accusations to be brought into the courtroom, evidence of any kind from the past can be brought in, so even if somebody was tried in the past and found innocent, those same accusations could be brought into the courtroom against them for a new crime. And so it’s a pretty scary precedent to set.”
And Republican Stephanie Hess of Havre said allowing a jury to hear about an accused abuser’s previous acts, could change the whole focus of a trial.
"It opens the door for the trial to become about the person’s character and not about what they’re charged with necessarily.”
Despite those objections, the bill was approved on a 55 to 45 vote. It must pass one more vote before heading to the Senate.