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Law School Case Brief

Dickerson v. Commonwealth - 174 S.W.3d 451 (Ky. 2005)


The degree of similarity between the charged and the uncharged acts is a critical factor in establishing a direct relationship independent of character. As the degree of similarity increases, and a modus operandi appears, inferences are more likely to be drawn from the events' common facts rather than their common criminality. The conclusion must be that two acts involving sexual crimes are not necessarily similar. Bad acts evidence offered to prove the corpus delicti by similarity should meet the same criteria as such evidence offered to prove identity by similarity, that is, it should indicate a modus operandi. While the issue of the corpus delicti is primary in sex abuse cases, identity of the perpetrator is not wholly irrelevant. If the act occurred, then the defendant almost certainly was the perpetrator. The two issues are essentially integrated. It is entirely appropriate, for purposes of assessing the admissibility of evidence of collateral crimes in the present context, to treat the evidence as if offered to prove identity by similarity, and to require that the details of the charged and uncharged acts be sufficiently similar as to demonstrate a modus operandi.


Defendant Robert A. Dickerson was twice previously convicted of sexual offenses in the Jefferson Circuit Court, Kentucky. In May 1988, he was convicted in Fulton Circuit Court, Kentucky, of one count of sodomy in the first degree for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which was enhanced to 30 years because the jury found him to have been a persistent felony offender in the second degree, and one count of possession of a handgun by a conviction felon, for which he was sentenced to 10 years. The convictions stemmed from the sexual assault of his wife's daughter, who was less then 12 years of age at the time, when the wife was at work. Dickerson allegedly threatened the child with a gun stating that, if she did not comply, he would kill her and the rest of her family. The case involved two separate trials. However, instead of retrying the sodomy and prior felony offense charges contained in the original indictment, the Commonwealth elected to consolidate the handgun charge with a sex offense registration charge in an indictment and try them together. The Commonwealth referred to the consolidated indictment as a superseding indictment. The trial court overruled Dickerson's motion to dismiss the new indictment on the ground that it charged offenses that were only misdemeanors. He appealed the conviction for sodomy, as well as the handgun and sex offender registry convictions as a matter of right.


Were Dickerson's convictions proper?




The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed Dickerson's judgments of conviction and sentences and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The court held that 2000 Ky. Acts 401 did not apply retroactively to a person who became a registrant in 1997 when the 1994 version of the act was in effect and, therefore, since the offenses charged in the indictments were misdemeanors, they were improperly before the trial court as the Kentucky district courts had exclusive jurisdiction over misdemeanor charges.

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