Law School Case Brief
People v. Garcia - 229 Cal. App. 4th 302, 177 Cal. Rptr. 3d 231 (2014)
The modern understanding of pedophilia is that it exists wholly independently from homosexuality. The existence or absence of one neither establishes nor disproves the other. While there are some early cases to the contrary, California courts have long recognized that a defendant's sexual attraction to adults of the same sex has nothing to do with whether they are sexually attracted to children of the same sex.
Appellant Leticia Garcia was the live-in babysitter for A.G., a six-year old girl. In 1995, Maria, the mother of A.G., caught Garcia kissing and caressing A.G. in a sexual manner. Maria fired Garcia and notified the authorities, to whom A.G. reported that Garcia had been sexually abusing her for a long time. Police were unable to find Garcia after she left Maria's employ, and she was not formally charged until 2011. Before trial in California state court, defense counsel filed a motion to exclude any evidence of Garcia's sexual orientation on the grounds such evidence was irrelevant, speculative and unduly prejudicial. The prosecutor disagreed and argued that sexual preference was an issue in the case. In ruling on the motion, the trial judge stated that Garcia's sexual orientation was not germane to the case and that the elements of the charged crime were gender neutral. The prosecutor pressed the issue of lesbianism during the direct examination of Maria and during the closing arguments. Garcia filed a motion for a mistrial but the trial court denied the request. The jury found Garcia guilty as charged of one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child. On appeal, Garcia argued that the evidence about her sexual orientation was not only irrelevant and unduly prejudicial, its admission rendered her trial fundamentally unfair in violation of due process.
Did the pressing of the issue of Garcia's sexual orientation in relation to the sexual abuse charge violate Garcia's due process rights?
The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment. The court ruled that evidence of Garcia's sexual orientation was not relevant under Evid. Code, § 210. Such evidence did not facilitate the jury's understanding of the case or have any tendency in reason to prove a disputed fact of consequence to the determination of the action. The prosecutor committed misconduct in repeatedly attempting to make an issue out of Garcia's sexual orientation and emphasizing the issue to the jury in closing argument. The trial court, which was largely successful in limiting the jury's exposure to evidence regarding Garcia's sexual orientation, did not abuse its discretion in denying her motion for a new trial. However, the prosecutor's misconduct left the appellate court with no confidence that the jury could have evaluated the charges against Garcia in a fair and impartial manner.
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