Mental Health Nurse Sex Crimes Against Patients In California
In People v. Harris (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 727 (Harris), a jury convicted the defendant, a mental health nurse, of several sexual offenses against two patients.
In regards to one victim, the defendant, while his victim was hospitalized for depression and being treated with the medications Haldol and Prozac, lifted the victim's clothes, licked her breasts, sucked on one breast, rubbed her clitoris, kissed her on the mouth, and used her hand to rub his penis through his pants. (Id. at pp. 730-731.)
His second victim, a 29-year-old woman suffering from suicidal depression, was treated at the hospital where the defendant worked, met the defendant during her treatment, and after release and pursuant to his request to "follow-up" with her, met at a local marina, drank wine, orally copulated each other, and had intercourse. (People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at pp. 731-732.)
She testified at trial that on another occasion that the defendant arrived at her house; that she advised him of her need to take a shower; that he asked to join her; that she refused the request; and that as she came out of the shower, the defendant mouthed her breast and fingered and mouthed her vagina. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 732.)
The defendant's defense as to the first victim's allegations was that she was hallucinating. His defense as to the second victim's allegations was that the victim consented and/or the defendant had a reasonable belief in that consent. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 732.)
The defendant had a prior criminal history. That history indicated that some 20 years before he had been a psychiatric technician at a state hospital; he was also an assistant manager at his apartment complex; that he used keys to an apartment to gain entry to his victim's apartment while the victim was sleeping; that he beat her unconscious and used a sharp instrument to rip through the muscles from her vagina to her rectum, stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick and left her unconscious on the floor, bleeding heavily from her injuries.
The defendant was found hiding nearby with blood on his hands, blood on his clothes, blood on his thighs, and blood on his penis. He was found with a keyring on his finger and one of the keys fit the victim's apartment door. There was no evidence that the victim had ever been a patient at the hospital where the defendant worked. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 733.)
The jury was given a redacted version of that history because, in the words of the prosecutor, "'the true details of that crime would so shock a jury and have shocked me to the point where I would agree with the full evidence of that case, Mr. Harris could not get a fair trial. '" ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 733.)
The redacted version was that a police officer, based on a crime report, found the victim on the floor of her apartment, lying on her back, naked from the waist down, with blood on her vagina and mouth along with a swelling to the right side of the face, and apparently unconscious.
As the officer waited with the victim for an ambulance to arrive, the defendant was brought to him in handcuffs and the officer saw blood on the upper area of the defendant's pants and his shorts while the defendant was "'yelling and agitated.'" ( Id. at p. 734.)
Another witness testified that when he saw the defendant at the police station, the defendant had blood on the inside of his thighs, on his penis, and on his Jockey shorts. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 734.)
Another witness testified to first finding the victim and seeing much of what the police officer testified to, and, in addition, to finding the defendant hiding in a nearby sealed veranda holding a keyring. He said that the defendant had blood on the lower part of his shirt, all over the crotch and stomach areas, on the inside of his clothes, and on his penis.
The jury was told of a stipulation that "'as a result of Mr. Harris' conduct surrounding this incident, he was convicted of first degree burglary with the infliction of great bodily injury.'" ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 735.)
In closing argument, the prosecutor argued that the redacted evidence indicated that the defendant viciously, sexually assaulted his victim; that he picked on people who can't or won't fight back; that he picks on the weakest people. the prosecutor further argued as follows:
"'Would the fact that somebody previously committed a sexual assault against a female, would that help you in determining whether or not that person has committed a sexual assault now. . . . It helps a lot.'" ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 736.)
The Harris court found that the prior sexual conduct should have been excluded because that evidence was inflammatory "in the extreme"; that the redacted version was incomplete and distorted; and that the inflammatory speculative nature of the evidence weighed sharply in favor of exclusion. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 738.)
The Harris court further found the evidence that the defendant was convicted of burglary rather than rape may have confused the jury, causing the jury possibly to believe the rape victim had gone "unrevenged." the court found this probability of confusing the jury with the evidence weighed in favor of excluding it. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at pp. 738-739.)
The Harris court also found that the remoteness of the evidence weighed strongly in favor of exclusion in that, under the circumstances, "23 years is a long time."
The defendant was convicted in 1972, paroled in 1978, and but for a 1991 misdemeanor drunk driving conviction, had led a "blameless" or "unblemished" life. the court found the drunk driving conviction was irrelevant as to the charged sexual offenses. He was 52 years old at the time of trial. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 739.)
The Harris court reasoned that, on balance, the trial court could find the likely consumption of time weighed in favor of admission, "but not strongly so," in that while the actual testimony occupied only 25 pages of transcript, the evidence necessitated lengthy instructions and admonitions and occupied a good portion of the closing arguments. ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 739.)
Lastly, the Harris court found that the evidence had little, if any, probative value in that "the evidence did little more than show defendant was a violent sex offender. the evidence that defendant committed a violent rape of a stranger, as the jury was led to believe, did not bolster the victims' credibility nor detract from the evidence impeaching their stories." ( People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 740.)