Michael Doporto is set to be released from prison this November. But some say the 20 years the child sex offender spent behind bars isn’t enough and have posted a petition online in an attempt to keep him locked up.
The online petition, started by the family of one of Doporto’s victims, has more than 1,200 signatures. It appeals to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole to change its decision to release the man on Nov. 26. The petition includes this passage:
“I do not trust the system to protect these kids from him doing it again. This is my last ditch effort to keep him in there.”
However, as the Salt Lake Tribune notes, Doporto will be released. The parole board only changes release dates for issues like disciplinary problems. Utah law also prevents the governor from intervening in a release date.
Still, the family says the 20 years since the incident have not been enough to justify his release.
In a statement the parole board said in part:
“The board bends over backwards for victim families and they are very sensitive to them. … This wasn’t just something that was done on a whim.”
Legal Issues in the Past
This isn’t the first time Doporto’s release has stirred up controversy. In 1993, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. In that case, prosecutors got other children who claimed to be victims of Doporto’s abuse to testify.
But that conviction was overturned in 1997 when justices decided to allow testimony from persons unrelated to the case at hand should not be allowed. Doporto was released.
Lawmakers rushed to change the law and calm public outrage, but the courts beat them to it. Testimony of previous bad acts was allowed, but the court “set a high bar for allowing such testimony,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
In reality, “prior bad acts” evidence is often used in criminal cases to bolster otherwise weak cases. The defendant is thus put in the position of not only having to defend against the actual charge but also against what can amount to multitudes of alleged prior bad acts. In one case involving a physical therapist charged in Idaho with touching the genitals of a 16-year-old patient, over ten individuals came forward claiming the therapist had touched them inappropriately during therapy sessions. While each incident was by itself questionable and therefore did not justify independent charges, faced with the litany of prior events dating back almost twenty years, the jury found the therapist guilty of touching the girl’s genitals.
Whether or not justice was served in the case of the therapist is hard to say because such prior bad acts testimony is hard to disprove and puts the defendant in the position of having to defend against multiple allegations all within the context of one trial. There is no agreed-upon uniform standard of proof for the admission of such evidence and so the prior acts testimony comes into trial even when it is of questionable evidentiary value.
The use of prior bad acts evidence can actually shift the burden of proof away from the State and create a de facto presumption of guilt. Irrespective of whether the State has proven the charged crime, juries are inclined to convict if they are led to believe the defendant has “done this before.” Such evidence is extremely powerful and should only be used in very narrow circumstances. Unfortunately, many prosecutions occur by the use of such evidence.
Sex Offender Laws in Utah
Doporto underwent an 18-month sex offender program in prison.
When Doporto is released at the end of November, he will face a strict set of rules on what he is and isn’t allowed to do and where he is and isn’t allowed to go. In fact, he’ll face some of the toughest rules in the nation.
He will be considered a “Group A” sex offender. He will not be allowed to visit public parks or other places children gather, as well as potentially being barred from other areas where children may gather — including malls and other stores.
This can have an isolating effect on individuals who have served prison sentences and are trying to return to society. However, as the Salt Lake Tribune points out, treatment has driven down recidivism rates.
If you, or someone you love, has been accused of a sex crime, including sexual assault or rape, you need a strong legal defense to get these charges dismissed, reduced, or to win your acquittal. Contact our law offices today for an immediate consultation with our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers – (801)-895-3143. We make emergency jailhouse visits any time of day or night.