Molestation Case in California

In People v. Harris (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 727, a molestation case, a mental health nurse was convicted of molesting two female patients. He initiated contact with the women by befriending them thus gaining their trust and confidence, and then forced himself on them. The admitted testimony concerned rape, mutilation, and great bodily injury to the victim that occurred 20 years earlier. Many pertinent facts had been redacted from the testimony. The enormous gaps in the facts, it was reasoned, would require the jury to engage in imaginative speculation. (People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 738.) In Harris, the defendant stipulated to a burglary conviction from the incident, leaving the jury to reason the rape and brutal attack on the victim went unpunished. (People v. Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at p. 739.) In Harris, the defendant, a mental health nurse, was charged with fondling, kissing and sexually preying on two women who were vulnerable based on their mental health problems. (Harris, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th at pp. 730-732.) The defendant's prior criminal behavior involved a brutal attack on a female tenant in an apartment complex where the defendant was the assistant manager. (Id. at p. 733.) The defendant "beat the tenant unconscious and used a sharp instrument to rip through the muscles from her vagina to her rectum, then stabbed her in the chest with an ice pick, leaving a portion of the pick inside her." (Ibid.) The jury in Harris was given an incomplete and distorted version of these prior facts and was told the defendant was convicted of burglary and infliction of great bodily injury. (Id. at pp. 734, 738.) The charged crimes "involving a breach of trust and the 'taking advantage' of two emotionally and physically vulnerable women were of a significantly different nature and quality than the violent and perverse attack on a stranger that was described to the jury." (Id. at p. 738.) The Court concluded the inflammatory and speculative nature of the evidence of the prior criminal assault weighed "sharply in favor of exclusion." (Ibid.) In Harris, the prosecution presented to the jury an altered version of the prior offense along with a stipulation that the defendant was convicted of first degree burglary with the infliction of great bodily injury. (60 Cal.App.4th at pp. 734-735.) The Court held the admission of such evidence increased the probability of confusing the jury and could result in the jury convicting the defendant for the prior assault. (Id. at pp. 738-739.) The jury could have concluded the defendant "escaped appropriate rape charges and was merely convicted of burglary, leaving the rape victim unrevenged." (Id. at p. 738,.) In Harris the Court disagreed with the trial court's assessment of similarity, finding that the prior conduct evidence was "totally dissimilar to the current allegations" because the only facts the trial court found similar were that all three women were Caucasian and in their 20's or 30's. (Ibid.) Because there was no significant similarity between the prior sex crimes and the charged sex crimes, this court concluded the probative value weighed "strongly in favor of excluding" the prior sex crimes evidence. (Id. at p. 741.)