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What aspects of my past might be used against me?

New Jersey notable, Thomas Edison, is credited with inventing the light bulb. It didn't happen overnight. Supposedly, it took about 10,000 tries. When asked about that record, he said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Edison learned from his mistakes. Most of us do, even though it is a widely held view that our past behavior is a good predictor of what will happen in the future. This is a concept that prosecutors often turn to when seeking to press criminal charges against an individual. They are not in the business of protecting defendants.

If they can unearth something in a person's past that suggests they could be guilty of a repeat offense, you can expect they will try to use it. What many readers might not know is that any criminal record that exists about a suspect is accessible to police. This includes previous arrests, charges and trial records. That does not mean they have carte blanche to use that information against you. Knowing when the line is crossed depends on legal experience.

The outcome recently of a case of a Sicklerville man charged with sexual assault serves as a case in point. The jury acquitted him earlier this month. It's impossible to say how things might have turned out had appeals courts not thrown out prosecution evidence of criminal proceedings against the defendant from several years earlier in a different state.

The reason it was rejected would seem simple. That previous trial had ended in the man's acquittal. Appeals courts up to the New Jersey Supreme Court said information about an alleged crime that ends in an acquittal at trial can't be used in later prosecution.

It is worth noting that the jury cleared the defendant in the case of all charges, taking just 50 minutes to reach the verdict.

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