Florida v. William Kennedy Smith
The Boston Globe, July 24, 1991

By Brian C. Mooney

With the filing of a simple two-page document in court Monday, the Palm Beach rape case against William Kennedy Smith has moved from the tabloids to the legal journals.

By attempting to introduce evidence of unrelated but allegedly similar assaults by Smith in the past, lead prosecutor Moira Lasch has invoked a controversial rule.

Judge Mary Lupo, who is presiding over the Smith case, must balance Smith's right to a fair trial and the prosecution's ability to use a potentially devastating tool. In Florida, it is called the Williams Rule and allows prosecutors to offer evidence of prior acts similar to those alleged in the pending case as circumstantial proof of motive, intent, preparation or method of operation. The rule, however, may not be used solely to prove bad character or a propensity to commit a particular crime....

Smith is accused of sexual battery, Florida's equivalent of rape, on a Florida woman at the Kennedy family estate on Easter weekend. Lasch's office on Monday said it would seek to introduce testimony from three women from New York and Washington, alleging that Smith raped one three years ago and tried to rape the other two in 1988 and 1983. Smith, who has pleaded not guilty in the pending case, was not charged in any of the other incidents.

The Florida rule dates to 1959 when the state Supreme Court decided the case of Ralph Williams, who was found guilty of raping a woman in her car after evidence that he was involved in a similar incident in the same St. Petersburg parking lot six weeks earlier.... The rule was made part of the state's code of evidence in 1979 and is patterned after a similar federal rule of evidence....


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