In a recent case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his convictions and sentences for child molestation. In his argument, the defendant focused on the expert testimony that the prosecution used during his trial, alleging that this testimony was overly broad and prejudicial towards the jury. In considering the appeal, the court declared that the expert testimony was appropriate given the circumstances of the case, thus denying the defendant’s appeal.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was a family friend of the victim, who was born in 2003. The victim had known the defendant to be like an uncle to her, and between the years of 2013 and 2015, the victim saw the defendant regularly.
During those years, the defendant molested the victim several times. He forced the child to perform oral sex on him; he threatened the victim by saying that if she told anyone about the abuse, he would hurt her grandmother; and he forced himself on the victim by inappropriately touching her on multiple occasions. When the victim moved in with her father in 2015, the abuse stopped. A few years later, however, the victim texted the defendant saying that she was still negatively affected by the abuse she had undergone.
In 2018, the victim disclosed the abuse to her father, and the victim’s father went to law enforcement with the information. Detectives covertly joined the victim on a phone call when she confronted the defendant about the abuse, and he openly acknowledged having abused her. The defendant was then criminally charged and found guilty of child molestation.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the prosecution used improper expert testimony to establish his guilt. During the trial, a forensic interviewer with the child protection team at a children’s hospital provided testimony regarding “a detailed profile of typical abusers.” According to the defendant, this evidence was not relevant to him as an individual. The evidence unnecessarily biased the jury and made him more likely to receive a guilty verdict.
The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that the expert never claimed to be speaking about the defendant directly. She admitted that she did not have any knowledge about this particular case, and thus the jury was clear on what her role was in the trial. The court agreed with the prosecution that the expert testimony was unbiased and that her role was only to educate the jury on what she had seen in the field.
Because the expert testimony was sufficiently broad and never claimed to relate directly to the defendant, the court decided the testimony was indeed acceptable. All the testimony did, said the court, was provide the jury with a helpful context for how child molestation typically plays out, and there was no harm suffered as a result of this description.
The court then affirmed the defendant’s original verdict.
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