LOS ANGELES (CN) – The California Supreme Court has upheld a district jury’s conviction of a man accused of the kidnapping, robbery and rape of five women over a three-year period, ruling that a modification in jury instruction procedures during the trial was warranted.
Juan Jose Villatoro was charged with various offenses against women between 2005 and 2008, including the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old girl. As with the other counts, DNA samples matched the defendant, who was also identified by the victim in a photo lineup.
The court permitted the jury to “consider the defendant’s charged sexual offenses as evidence of his propensity to commit the other charged sexual offenses.” The jury subsequently convicted Villatoro, leading to an appeal based upon that instruction to the jurors.
Villatoro’s argument rested on People v. Quintanilla, which “held that charged offenses could not be considered as propensity evidence under a similar provision and its corresponding jury instruction.” An appeals court rejected Villatoro’s challenges.
Upon review, Supreme Court Judge Ming W. Chin wrote that character evidence is “generally inadmissible” to prove conduct on a specific occasion, but added that the ban does not “prohibit admission of specific acts of misconduct to establish a material fact like intent, common design or plan, or identity, and does not affect the admissibility of evidence regarding the credibility of a witness.”
Chin further explained that sex crimes are usually committed in seclusion, without a third party witness, leaving judges and juries with the task of making difficult determinations concerning credibility. In 1995, section 1108 of the evidence code was enacted, abrogating previous court decisions that found “propensity” evidence to be prejudicial.
“Section 1108 provides the trier of fact in a sex offense case the opportunity to learn of the defendant’s possible disposition to commit sex crimes,” Chin wrote. “Nearly every published opinion interpreting section 1108 (including some from this court) has recognized that this provision allows, when proper, evidence of prior uncharged sexual offenses to prove propensity.”
Chin added that, “With regard to the admission of uncharged sexual offenses, we have held that section 1108 satisfies the requirements of due process.”
The court also said it construes the section 1108 provision that states commission of “another” sexual offense is not made inadmissible by section 1101 “if the evidence is not inadmissible pursuant to section 352,” extends to both uncharged and charged sexual offenses.
“In short, we conclude nothing in the language of section 1108 restricts its application to uncharged offenses,” the court stated. “Indeed, the clear purpose of section 1108 is to permit the jury’s consideration of evidence of a defendant’s propensity to commit sexual offenses.”
Supreme Court judge Carol A. Corrigan, however, disagreed with the majority analysis that Evidence Code section 1108 permits the jury to draw on evidence of a defendant’s multiple charged crimes for propensity to commit a sexual crime.
“In my view, such an instruction contradicts long-standing precedent, expands multiple sections of the Evidence Code in ways not contemplated by the Legislature, and sows the seed for confusion and unintended consequences,” she said. “Because the error in this case is clearly harmless, however, I concur in the result.” Corrigan said, however, that section 1108 “addresses evidence of uncharged crimes. It says nothing about the inferences permissible from evidence of charged crimes. The majority’s reasoning fails to distinguish between evidence and inferences a jury may draw from evidence.”
Supreme Court Judge Kathryn M. Werdegar concurred with Corrigan.