The state cannot generally use your past bad acts to prove that you have bad character and thus are more likely to commit a crime. Illinois law, however, specifically allows evidence of past domestic violence to be used under certain conditions.

Under Illinois law, evidence of past domestic violence can be used for any relevant purpose to prove charges of domestic violence or first or second degree murder involving domestic violence. (See Evidence in Domestic Violence Cases).

Even so, the court must weigh whether past crimes evidence will bias the jury against you more than it helps prove the case. To make that determination, the court considers: (1) the closeness in time between the past acts and the present crime; (2) the degree of factual similarity between the offenses; or (3) other relevant facts and circumstances.

In People v Jenk, the Illinois Appellate court upheld the use of three prior domestic violence incidents against the defendant, because they were 1) supported by corroborative evidence; 2) relevant to showing defendant’s motive, intent or absence of mistake; 3) were close in time and 4) had a high degree of factual similarity to the current crime. The trial court excluded three other incidents that were uncorroborated and thus might have prejudiced the jury beyond their evidentiary value.

If you have been charged with domestic violence or another 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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