This sexual abuse case involves a child that was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was 5 years old. At the time of the incident, the defendant threatened the child that he would kill her mother if she came forward about the incident. As a result of this threat, the child waited 5 years to come forward about the assault.
After a trial by jury, the defendant was found guilty as charged. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for post-verdict acquittal and motion for a new trial. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to reconsider the sentence. The defendant appealed and challenged the admission of the plaintiff’s expert testimony alleging it invaded the area of the jury.
The Pediatrics Expert
An expert in child abuse pediatrics was hired to examine the victim. The child’s physical examination came back normal with minor discharge. She tested negative for sexually transmitted diseases. In her report, the expert also explained the reason why the victim delayed disclosing the incident. According to the expert, in most child abuse cases, the abuser is someone familiar to the child or the family. The expert further described the concept of disclosure as a process, stating that in some cases, children make disclosures by making small revelations over a period of time. The expert also explained that in the majority of sexual abuse claims the examinations are normal or nonspecific.
The defendant argued that the expert overstepped the bounds of acceptable testimony when she stated that her diagnosis of the victim was child sexual abuse. The defendant maintains that the expert witness must seek to explain in general terms the behavioral characteristics of child abuse victims in disclosing alleged incidents without giving testimony which directly concerns the particular victim’s credibility.
The defendant argued that the state introduced expert testimony for the purpose of substantively proving whether sexual abuse occurred. He alleged that the expert concluded that the victim was telling the truth with respect to abuse. According to the defendant, the state’s case was largely based upon the victim’s testimony. The defendant argued that the inadmissible expert testimony unduly supported the victim’s testimony.
A review of the pediatric expert’s testimony revealed that she never opined that the victim was telling the truth. Although the defendant claimed that the expert explicitly stated so on appeal, this was an imperfect interpretation of the expert’s testimony. The expert witness did not affirmatively state that the victim had been sexually abused or that she was being truthful. The expert stated that her diagnosis of child sexual abuse was solely based on the child history provided by the victim. Furthermore, the expert declined to opine when specifically asked if she knew whether the victim was telling the truth, stating that she could not say because she was “not a lie detector”.
The court found that pediatrics expert’s testimony was within the limits of Daubert and assisted the trier of fact in understanding the victim’s lack of physical evidence of abuse and her late disclosure of the abuse. The court concluded that the expert testimony did not express an opinion as to whether or not the defendant was guilty. Thus, the testimony was admissible.
The sentence and conviction of the defendant were affirmed.