According to common law, every accused person deserves conviction based upon the evidence that relates to the charged crime.
Towards this end, it is imperative to charge an accused person based on solely exculpatory evidence and not evidence of what they did on different occasions. Furthermore, it is unfair to try an accused person based on evidence of their reputation. In the same berth, it is improper to convict them based on either their propensity towards criminal behavior, their reputation or even what they did in other occasions. Generally, it is improper to argue that due an individual’s tendency or propensity to crime, they committed the offense in question. As a matter of principle, using the bad character of an accused as evidence is invalid. Such evidence is largely inadmissible during the trial of an accused person. Evidence of an accused person’s bad character is prejudicial.
However, it is mostly relevant in most criminal cases. Investigating police officers turn to criminal records in search of past misconducts. This prevents juries from relying too much on bad character evidence as opposed to conclusive as well as specific evidence.
In Sheldon v. Sun Alliance Australia, it was held that logically probative character evidence is revealed in criminal cases when it is sufficiently relevant. This is especially the case while considering the credibility of witnesses or case issues. In civil cases, the 1929 Evidence Act protects the character of the alleged victims in relation to sexual assault. The prosecution tenders character evidence against the accused in chief and the accused is protected against cross-examination that reveals his/her bad character. Propensity reasoning can lead to prejudice against the accused during the trial. The accused person can also adduce good character evidence as this assists in countering bad character. However, in R v. Meadows, it is proper to convict Miles Meadows based on the five counts of indecent assault. The attempt by the defendant counsel to try Meadows separately for each of the five counts is not right.
The evidence against Meadows demonstrates his discreditable conduct and propensity towards indecent assault. All the five counts relate to propensity of Meadows towards a criminal misconduct – indecent assault. That Meadows committed the five counts is not predicated upon sequential proclivity reasoning. He did not assault BB indecently because he indecently assaulted AA, CC, DD or even EE. Not all the individual crimes can be proved individually. The attempt by the defense counsel to try each case separately is untenable. The prosecution intends to use the strong inference arising from the happenstance of conditions that Meadows committed the crimes – similar fact evidence. In R v. Smith, the accused had married four times. After every wife’s life was insured in the favor of the accused, the wife is always found drowned within her bath. In R V. Meadows, the prosecution intends to use the propensity to bad character as shown by Meadows as evidence.
While it is much sensible and easier to judge a certain case based on its individual facts using the exclusionary principle, formulating definitive rules applicable in each situation is integral. Rigorous probative value determination as well as inferential analysis in every circumstance helps in solving admissibility in an individual case. This is the approach used in R v. Long and McDonnell and R v. Nieterink. Judges explained how evidence showing bad character has various probative and important non-propensity uses. Meadows depict discreditable conduct. In R v. Meadows, propensity reasoning has probative significance. This is especially because common sense calls for reception incriminating Meadows with the five counts – all are related to indecent assault. Such character is relevant through propensity. It has probative weight. The South Australia Evidence Amendment Act provides the extension to the use and admissibility of discreditable conduct evidence for either non-similar fact or non-propensity to show the context or background to an alleged offence, the relationship existing between parties in providing evidence of intention or motive in a case. Discreditable conduct evidence is oftentimes admissible for a limited and specific purpose. It can help in establishing the context or background to an alleged offense. Moreover, it can shed more light on relationship amongst parties. This is not for the similar fact or wider propensity reasoning line. The jury in R v. Meadows case must not use and admit discreditable conduct evidence to argue that Meadows is the sort of man who can commit the charged offenses. It is possible to charge the five counts together. Universally, only uncharged acts must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt separately. Therefore, the attempt by the defense counsel to try the charges separately is inconsistent with the decision in R v. Shepherd 170 CLR 573. Uncharged acts are like circumstantial evidence.
In charging Meadows with indecent assault, it is okay to admit any evidence of other charged incidents to demonstrate that the accused has sexual attraction towards children. This is contrary to section 5 of Criminal Law Consolidation Act. Meadows committed the five crimes between September 1975 and January 1970. In HML v. The Queen, Kirby, Hayne and Gummow argue that in the event that the prosecution intends to providence evidence that reveals discreditable acts regardless of the strict intention, due to the risk of using it as propensity evidence, the admissibility of such evidence has to be justified through the application of Pfennig standard. Australian courts provide that similar facts evidence is not admissible lest the highest admissibility standard is established. The coincidence between similar stories in R v. Meadows and Hoch v. R, the series by complainants to the same indecent assault alleged against Meadows is admissible if there is no reasonable coincidence explanation of stories other than his guilt of the alleged indecent assaults. Meadows said that the complainants made the stories up. Evidence in this case should be examined together. According to the Australian Evidence 5th ed, no one exclusionary principle prevents Meadows from introducing evidence that disclose that his former wife had vowed to destroy him. Meadow’s brother gave him information relating to his former whom he considered an evil woman. The South Australian Evidence Amendment Act overrules the R v. Hoch decision unequivocally. Existence of collusion possibility between Meadow’s wife and the complaints to implicate him is a credibility issue that the jury should decide. It is in no way a ground by which evidence is admissible. The use and admission of any discreditable conduct as well as its probative value should outweigh its prejudicial impact.
As the prosecution counsel, it is in order to argue that high similarity degree between autonomous exist in all the five counts against Meadows. The accused committed all the five independent crimes. Complainants AA, BB, CC, DD and EE all complain about Meadows. They all complain about his indecent assault against them. Meadows possess a particular disposition to act intimately towards young women. This satisfies the high standard in relation to the probative value. The decision in Pfennig v. R 127 ALR 99 is an attempt to explain the propensity as well as similar fact evidence. Propensity evidence shows that Meadows has a particular disposition towards acting intimately. On the other hand, similar fact evidence provides that an accused acts in a certain way in a certain situation. The possibility of collusion or concoction affects evidence cogency. However, the five indecent assault counts contravene section five of Criminal Law Consolidation Act. The 13-year old AA was a friend to Meadow’s daughter. He stayed over in Meadow’s home many times. This provides relationship evidence as to the possibility of Meadow’s misconduct between May and June of 1970. BB’s mother was an ally of Meadow’s former wife. BB slept over in Meadow’s home inside his daughter’s room. CC’s mother was a second cousin to Meadow’s former wife while DD’s mother was a friend to Meadow’s former wife. DD’s family visited Meadow’s home frequently. Lastly, EE was an ally of Meadow’s daughter. The possibility of complaints concoction between daughter, former wife and other complainants is limited due to the existence of relationship evidence. The description by Meadows regarding his former wife as evil and vindictive woman is a credibility issue that the jury should decide.
In conclusion, proof should be beyond any reasonable doubt in criminal proceedings unlike that in civil proceedings that is beyond the balance of preponderance. In principle, similar fact evidence provides that courts should exclude evidence, which merely should the bad character of the accused. Punishing the accused for past bad acts is unfair. It is in order to use propensity reasoning in inferring that the accused committed an alleged crime. The discreditable conduct of an accused is a circumstantial evidence. It satisfies the legal relevance criteria. Oftentimes, hearsay evidence is not admissible in trial though many exceptions and exclusions exist. It is in order to consider the allegation by Meadow’s daughter regarding sexual abuse as circumstantial evidence. In applying propensity and similar fact evidence, a trier-of-fact must determine whether there exist any exceptions to the exclusionary rule.