Child Sexual Abuse Expert Testimony Allowed

Appellant was convicted on numerous counts of child sexual abuse by the trial court.  He appealed this conviction, arguing that the court erred when it allowed expert witness testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS).  The appeals court affirmed the convictions of the lower court.

Facts: This case (People v. Paul James Hultman – Court of Appeal – Fourth Appellate District – State of California – March 15th, 2016) involves the conviction of Hultman of numerous counts of child sexual abuse on a number of children.  As part of their case, the prosecution called on Detective Jason Frey as a child sexual abuse expert witness to specifically testify on the subject of CSAAS.

The defense objected to Frey’s expert testimony on CSAAS stating that he was not qualified to do so and the court overruled this objection.  Frey then testified on the patterns in sexually abused children, such as delayed, contradictory, and unconvincing disclosure of sexual abuse, or complete retraction of the disclosure.  In addition, Frey testified that there are five characteristics of CSAAS: secrecy, helplessness, delayed disclosure, entrapment and accommodation, and retraction.  Last, he stated that CSAAS does not assist a professional in determining whether or not someone has been molested.

The defense called Veronica Thomas, Ph.D as an expert in CSAAS.   She stated that CSAAS can apply to some people who had been molested by someone that they know, but that it has no relevance in a criminal investigation or used to determine whether or not someone had been sexually molested.

Hultman filed an appeal on the admissibility of CSAAS and that Frey was not qualified to testify on CSAAS.  There were other factors on the appeal, but they are not relevant to the qualifications of expert witness testimony.

Discussion: The appeals court took up the issue of whether the trial court used discretion when it allowed limited testimony of CSAAS.  The court stated that CSAAS cannot be used as evidence to prove that a sexual offense occurred, but can be used to target a “misconception” from evidence provided in a case.  The prosecutor stated that he would introduce the evidence of CSAAS for a limited purpose – to explain why the children in this case did not disclose the abuse for more than one year and why they may recant their initial statements alleging that the abuse took place.  Thus, the appeals court ruled that the trial court did not err when it allowed the limited testimony of CSAAS, which was that of the sole purpose of showing that the victims reactions were consistent with being sexually abused.

The court next took up the testimony of Detective Frey and whether he was qualified to provide limited testimony on CSAAS.   They opined that Frey did not lack qualifications to opine on CSAAS.  His duties include interviewing children who were sexually abused, had forensic child interview training, attended academic conferences in which CSAAS was discussed, and was familiar with scholarly work on CSAAS.  Due to these factors, they appeals court ruled that the trial court did not err when it allowed the limited expert witness testimony of Detective Frey.

Conclusion:  The appeals court affirmed the trial court opinions and conviction.