Are Prior Uncharged Sex Offenses Admissible as Evidence ?

In People v. Harris (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 727, the Court identified the following factors as relevant to the proper balance of prejudice and probative value in connection with prior uncharged sex offenses: (1) the inflammatory nature of the prior offense evidence; (2) the probability that admission of the evidence will confuse the jury; (3) the remoteness of the prior offense; (4) the consumption of time necessitated by introduction of the evidence; (5) the probative value of the evidence. (Id. at pp. 737-740.) In Harris, a mental health nurse was convicted of several nonviolent sex offenses committed against two women, a patient prone to hallucinations and a former patient with whom the defendant had carried on a consensual sexual relationship. The first victim testified that the defendant lifted her clothes and licked her breasts and then put his hand down her pants and rubbed her clitoris. (Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 731.) The other victim testified that, on one occasion, the defendant forced himself on her, mouthing her breasts and fingering and mouthing her vagina. (Id. at p. 732.) The prosecution was permitted to present evidence that, 23 years earlier, the defendant had committed a violent sexual assault on a stranger after gaining entry to her home at night. The jurors were presented a redacted version of this prior offense which told them the victim had been beaten and the defendant had been found nearby with blood on his penis and other parts of his body. However, the jury was not told of the sexual nature of the attack, thereby provoking speculation in this regard. During argument, the prosecutor described the incident as a vicious sexual assault forming a part of a pattern of preying on helpless women. The jury was told the defendant was convicted of burglary in connection with this incident. (Id. at pp. 733-736.) We concluded the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence, finding all but one of the relevant factors supported exclusion of the evidence. In particular, we indicated the prior offense, which involved "a viciously beaten and bloody victim," was "inflammatory in the extreme" in comparison to the charged offenses, in which the defendant "licked and fondled an incapacitated woman and a former sexual partner, both of whom were thereafter on speaking terms with him." (Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 738.) The Court also found likely confusion of the jury, because it was told the defendant had been convicted of burglary rather than rape, thereby "leaving the rape victim unrevenged." (Ibid.) The Court further found the prior offense remote and its probative value insignificant in that it "did little more than show defendant was a violent sex offender" and did not bolster the victim's testimony. (Id. at p. 740; see id. pp. 739-740.) As for the latter, we explained the prior and current offenses were dissimilar such that the prior offense "was not particularly probative of the defendant's predisposition to commit these 'breach of trust' sex crimes." (Id. at p. 741; see id. at pp. 740-741.) Finally, on the one factor somewhat favoring admission, we noted testimony regarding the prior offense spanned only 25 transcript pages, although it "necessitated lengthy instructions and admonitions and occupied a good portion of the closing arguments." (Id. at p. 739.)