In a recent California sexual assault case before a state appeals court, the court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted expert testimony from a doctor who testified that only a very small percentage of child sexual abuse allegations are false. The defendant in the case was charged with 12 counts of lewd acts against a child younger than 14 years old under Penal Code 288(b)(1), and one count of continuous sexual abuse under 14 under Penal Code 288.5(a).
The defendant’s first trial ended in a hung jury, but when he was subsequently retried for the same crimes he was convicted on all counts. He was sentenced to a total term of 104 years. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial judge improperly admitted expert testimony about child sexual abuse.
A trial court normally has significant discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude expert testimony. In child sexual abuse cases, state courts have generally held that expert testimony on rape trauma syndrome may be admissible in order to dispel misconceptions about rape and rape victims. It can explain, for example, why there was a delay in reporting the abuse. However, such testimony is not warranted in all cases. For example, in another case in which the victim reported the attack soon after it happened, and the victim had a severe emotional reaction, testimony about rape trauma syndrome did not serve the purpose of rebutting misconceptions and should not have been admitted.