State v. J.Q.
New Jersey Supreme Court
617 A.2d 1196 (1993)
Connie and Norma were two sisters who reported to their mother, Karen, that their father, John Q. (defendant), had sexually abused them. At first, Karen did not believe the girls, but after seeing additional signs, Karen reported the abuse to law enforcement. Physical examinations of Connie and Norma showed that both girls had abnormal findings for children who were seven and five at the time, respectively. Both girls testified at John’s trial. At the trial, John presented the theory that his daughters had made up the allegations of sexual abuse at Karen’s instigation as retribution for losing John, or why else would the girls not have reported earlier, or why would the girls have continued to visit John. The prosecution presented the testimony of an expert witness who testified regarding child sexual-abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS). CSAAS identified five categories of behaviors seen in children who had been sexually abused, which included traits such as secrecy, delayed reporting, and recantation. CSAAS was regarded as reliable for the purpose of explaining these traits. CSAAS had a rehabilitative purpose in helping a jury to understand why a child would keep abuse a secret and not report it sooner in much the same way that battered-woman syndrome helped a jury to understand why a battered woman might not leave her abuser sooner. The prosecution’s expert testified about the traits of CSAAS as she had observed them in Connie and Norma. However, the expert moved beyond a discussion of traits and rendered her opinion on matters of credibility, such as if a child was lying or telling the truth. The expert stated categorically that it was her opinion that Connie and Norma had been sexually abused. It was not clear whether the expert had rendered this opinion based on her knowledge of credibility or CSAAS. John was convicted of first-degree aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of his children and sentenced to 30 years of incarceration. John appealed. An appellate court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial, determining that it was wrong for the trial court to allow CSAAS evidence to show whether the children were credible instead of for the narrow purpose for which such testimony was regarded as reliable—namely, explaining behaviors of child victims of sexual abuse such as secrecy, delayed reporting, and the like.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (O’Hern, J.)
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