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APSAC Amicus Brief Supports Admissibility of Testimony on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome

In January 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard the case State of New Jersey v. J.L.G, in which the defendant was convicted for several sexual offenses against his step-granddaughter, who was between ten and twelve years old when the alleged offenses took place. The alleged victim failed to disclose the defendant's conduct to any adult. Instead, she told her brother, who did not reveal the allegations to their mother until almost two years after the abuse occurred. During the trial, the prosector introduced an expert witness who testified about Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS). This expert witness explained to the jury how CSAAS could help them understand the alleged victim’s delay and failure to report the abuse to an adult. The defendant entered a motion to bar the expert testimony, but the trial court denied his motion. The defendant was convicted on all counts and subsequently appealed his conviction, raising the CSAAS expert’s opinion as his primary issue on appeal. A New Jersey Appellate Division Panel reversed the defendant’s conviction because they found the CSAAS expert witness exceeded the bounds of proper expert opinion on that subject. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division Panel, although the Supreme Court concluded that the error was harmless. However, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Appellate Division panel for further consideration of issues raised by the defendant that the panel did not address during their initial review. Specifically, the court is asked to consider whether expert testimony regarding CSAAS is admissible under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 702. Late last week, APSAC filed an amicus brief in support of the admissibility of expert testimony on CSAAS. The term “Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome” is a non-diagnostic term used to describe a group of symptoms or behavior patterns typically manifested by young victims of sexual abuse. Expert testimony on CSAAS has been admitted in courtrooms to explain common behavioral health patterns of children who have experience sexual abuse, including counterintuitive behaviors, such as their delayed, and often unconvincing, disclosure. APSAC’s amicus brief supports the admissibility of CSAAS expert testimony, arguing that it meets the reliability requirements for admitting expert testimony under Rule 702. The brief examines the reliability requirement using three methods, laid out by the Supreme Court, that a proponent of expert testimony can use to satisfy the burden of establishing that expert evidence is sufficiently reliable. The brief explains that (1) multiple experts have presented evidence to the Court regarding the widespread acceptance of CSAAS, particularly with respect to describing the prevalence of victims’ delayed disclosure and denial; (2) scientific research indicates that CSAAS testimony is generally accepted and sufficiently reliable; and (3) persuasive judicial decisions acknowledge the general acceptance and reliability of expert CSAAS testimony about delayed disclosure and denial. APSAC's brief also discusses how CSAAS testimony meets another requirement of admissibility by explaining that the testimony is vitally important to help jurors understand facts, beyond the understanding of the average juror, about child sexual abuse victims and their delay in disclosing abuse or denying that the abuse occurred. The brief notes empirical research confirming not only that the typical juror in a child sexual abuse case may be less well informed about child sexual abuse than the general public, but also that potential jurors may actually hold mistaken beliefs that delays in disclosure, retraction, and inconsistent reporting of sexual abuse are uncommon and are indicative of fabrication of allegations of sexual abuse. The brief was authored by Theo Mackey Pollack, Esq., M.C.R.P., of The Law Office of Theo Mackey Pollack, and Jerome C. Roth, Esq. and Jeremy A. Lawrence, Esq. of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. Read the full text by downloading a PDF of the brief:

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