Past crimes generally cannot be used to prove a current offense except under certain circumstances. One major exception, however, is that Illinois law specifically allows the use of prior sex offenses to show a tendency to commit that type of crime.

With most crimes, your past offenses cannot be used to show bad character and thus a likelihood to commit crime. However, they can be used to show intent, modus operandi, identity, motive, absence of mistake and any material fact other than propensity that is relevant to the case. For example, a past crime can show you had a motive to murder a key witness, or that you knew how to hot wire cars because you’d done it before.

In Illinois, however, your past sexual misconduct can be used in crimes involving predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual abuse, child pornography, aggravated child pornography, criminal transmission of HIV or child abduction. (See 725 ILCS 115-7.3).

Even then the court must consider if the past crimes evidence is more likely to prejudice the jury than would be helpful as proof. To make that determination, the court considers: (1) closeness in time between the past sexual offense and the current crime, (2) the degree of factual similarity or (3) other relevant facts and circumstances.

In one recent Illinois case, People v Arze, the appellate court upheld the use of prior crimes against a family doctor who had sexually abused his patients. His past offenses took place around the same time. The crimes were factually similar because the defendant touched the victims on their private parts in the exam room while they were partially undressed. Because only two past crimes were admitted, the jury would not be overwhelmed or prejudiced by the number of past crimes.

If you have been charged with a sex offense or other crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. Do not discuss your crime with the police or third parties. Any attempt to explain yourself might give the prosecution the evidence they need to convict you. An experienced attorney can review your case for your best possible defense. Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the court house may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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