Legal Blog

Court Rules that Prior Act from 35 Years Ago is Admissible

June 14, 2017

In State v. McPherson, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of prior acts in a child molestation case solely because the other incidents occurred 35 years prior to the trial.

The defendant, a child psychologist, was indicted on seven counts of child molestation and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor for alleged acts committed against his patients.

At trial, the State filed a notice to introduce evidence that the defendant engaged in acts of child molestation with a 12-year-old boy from 1979 to 1981. The defendant filed a motion to exclude the evidence on the grounds that it was too remote in time. The trial court held a hearing and granted the motion but offered no basis for its ruling.

On appeal, the State asserted that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the evidence. The Court of Appeals agreed and found no basis in the record for excluding the evidence as unduly prejudicial, especially in light of the strong presumption toward admissibility.

The Court held that the remoteness in time of the prior acts did not automatically require that the evidence be excluded, but that the dual concerns of relevance and reliability governed admissibility.

Recognizing that there is no “bright-line rule as to how old is too old,” the Court noted that there were no showings that the potential witness’ memory was impaired or unreliable. The Court also cited to a recent case, Harris v. State, where it affirmed the admission of prior acts that occurred 44 years earlier.

Thus, the Court held that the other acts evidence was admissible and that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding it.

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