“Child Sexual Abuse Dynamics” Experts Get the Green Light

The South Carolina Supreme Court approved the prosecution’s use of experts in the field of “child sexual abuse dynamics” last week in State v. Jones, finding that the testimony offered was outside realm of lay knowledge, was not bolstering of the child witness’ testimony, and that the witness’ testimony was sufficiently reliable.

Is there a problem with “child sexual abuse dynamics” experts?

Since the Supreme Court has repeatedly shut down prosecutors’ use of forensic interviewers to blatantly bolster the credibility of child witnesses, SC prosecutors have begun using other types of experts, i.e. in the field of “child sexual abuse dynamics,” to bolster child witnesses.

In State v. Jones, the SC Supreme Court gives state prosecutors approval to continue bolstering witnesses, as long as they aren’t too obvious about it

Is the Testimony Bolstering?

If the testimony is strictly limited to what the Supreme Court approves in Jones, it is still bolstering – in this case, the expert testified as to 1) why children might delay reporting of abuse and 2) why caregivers might decline to report abuse.

The state’s argument, which the Court agreed with, is that these two questions are not common knowledge that would be understood by jurors, therefore an expert is needed to explain it to them.

Isn’t it common knowledge?

I suspect that most people have some experience with or know someone who has been accused or convicted of child sexual abuse – we don’t want to admit how common it is, but it is pervasive in our society.

If that’s true (it is), what purpose is there for an “expert” to explain delayed reporting or caregivers who do not report? The purpose is clear – so that jurors will believe the child witness’ testimony. AKA bolstering

Bolstering of child witnesses in child sexual abuse cases is okay with the Court, as long as it’s not blatantly obvious. Bolstering is okay as long as you can credibly call it something else.

Were the Expert’s Opinions Reliable?

The Supreme Court said they are.

But – the expert provided no basis for her opinions. The expert was unable to:

  • Identify or name a single study that supported her opinions; or
  • Identify any peer-reviewed literature that she was relying upon.

Among other things, the expert testified that only two-four percent of child abuse allegations are considered false allegations – that may be true if what the expert meant was that “experts” such as herself consider only two-four percent of allegations to be false.

But, the implication is that only two-four percent of all allegations are false, which was akin to telling jurors that there was a 96-98% chance that the defendant is guilty. Surely most jurors would find that 96-98% is beyond a reasonable doubt – why bother with a trial?

Don’t Conflate Reliability with Perfection

The Court said that the defendant’s argument “conflates reliability with perfection. There is always a possibility that an expert witness’s opinions are incorrect.”

The Court said that the expert’s opinions were reliable and properly admitted at trial because the expert said that her methods were published, subject to peer review, and “uniformly accepted and relied upon by others in the field,” even though she could not identify a single study or peer-reviewed literature that supported her opinions.

I suppose we can now cite this case for the proposition that any expert’s testimony is admissible if the expert says it is reliable.

Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

If you are facing any type of sex crime, but especially one involving children, you have an uphill battle ahead of you. The state is investigating and planning your trial right now – and you need to get an experienced sex crimes attorney on your side asap.

Call Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or message us through our website to set up a free, confidential consultation about your charges.