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Name: People v. Garcia
Case #: G048020
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 08/28/2014
Summary

Prosecutor committed prejudicial misconduct by raising defendant’s sexual orientation as a motive for molesting a child of the same sex. Appellant Leticia Garcia was charged with continuously molesting a girl she babysat. At trial, the prosecutor attempted to show that appellant was a lesbian, including commenting on her booking photo, which showed her with short hair. The prosecutor then repeatedly urged the jury during closing argument to consider appellant’s sexual orientation in deciding the case. On appeal from her conviction, appellant argued that the trial court erred in denying her request for a mistrial and that the admission of evidence concerning her sexual orientation rendered her trial fundamentally unfair in violation of due process. Held: Reversed. Initially, the appellate court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s mistrial motions. However, although the trial court was successful in limiting the jury’s exposure to evidence regarding appellant’s sexual orientation, the prosecutor’s repeated emphasis on appellant’s sexual orientation during closing argument was misconduct. By linking appellant’s sexual orientation to the issue of motive, the prosecutor essentially told the jury that appellant victimized the child because she is gay. But appellant’s sexual orientation was not relevant to any issue in the case because there is no evidence that gay child molesters are more likely to victimize children of their own sex rather than victims of the opposite sex. By relying on this irrelevant information in closing argument, the prosecutor validated jurors’ application of any misconceptions they may have had about the role of sexual orientation in a child molestation case. Because of this prosecutorial misconduct, appellant’s trial was fundamentally unfair and the error was not harmless.