Expert Testimony in Child Abuse Case Upheld on Appeal

Father convicted of sexual abusing his daughter appeals an opinion of the lower court which disallowed expert witness testimony of psychiatrist.  The appeals court upheld the opinions.

Facts: This case (People v. Risenhoover – Court of Appeal of California, Fifth Appellate District – September 2nd, 2015) involves a father convicted on numerous charges of sexual abusing his daughter when she was eight to 13 years old.  The defense maintains that the trial court erred in denying testimony from a child abuse expert witness, stating the victim suffered from a mental illness that would prove her false reporting of the abuse.  The defendant also argues that evidence detailing his sexual conduct with his wife should not have been allowed at the trial court.

The main part of this appeal centers on the daughter’s testimony surrounding the abuse, specifically, two statements. First, she stated that, starting at the age of 6 or 7 through 10 years of age, she had an imaginary friend named Evanescence, with whom she would share her feelings and help her through her ordeals.  Second, she testified that her father would not sexually abuse her when she was menstruating.

The People called upon Dr. Anthony Urquiza, a licensed psychologist to opine on child abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS), which attempts to describe 5 common characteristics and behaviors of sexual abuse.  Dr. Urquizza stated that CSAAS should be used as an educational tool and should not be used as a definitive tool to determine if sexual abuse did or did not occur.  Dr. Urquiza stated that having an imaginary friend is a way that some children cope after being abused, as it helps them to talk about their feelings without having to share their experiences with others.  He also stated that this form of internal therapy does not mean that the child is psychotic.