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COA discusses vouching testimony in child molesting trials

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The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed vouching testimony by witnesses called during child molesting trials in two opinions Tuesday. In one case, an appellate judge was troubled by the possible effect of the cumulative vouching testimony on the jury.

The issue of vouching by witnesses came up in Keith Hoglund v. State of Indiana, No. 90A02-1005-CR-591, and State of Indiana v. Andy J. Velasquez II, No. 53A05-1003-CR-194. In Hoglund, Keith Hoglund appealed his sentence of and conviction for Class A felony child molesting involving his young daughter, A.H. He claimed the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence from pediatrician Dr. Carol Butler, mental health counselor Christine Shestak, and clinic psychologist Dr. Amanda Mayle regarding the likelihood that A.H. fabricated her story of child abuse.

In Velasquez, the state appealed following the acquittal of Andy Velasquez for Class A felony and Class C felony child molesting of his stepdaughter. The state argued, among other issues, that the trial court abused its discretion by concluding the testimony of clinical social worker Judy Kline, psychologist Dr. Jennifer Spencer, and victim G.S.’s grandmother constituted vouching testimony.  

In Keith Hoglund v. State of Indiana,  90A02-1005-CR-591, the appellate court relied on Lawrence v. State, 464 N.E.2d 923, 925 (Ind. 1984), in which the Indiana Supreme Court allowed testimony which permits “some accrediting of the child witness in the form of opinions from parents, teachers, and others having adequate experience with the child, that the child is not prone to exaggerate or fantasize about sexual matters.” The witnesses are limited to “indirect” vouching.

Hoglund didn’t dispute that the evidence at issue is indirect vouching by an expert under Lawrence, but he argued that case is no longer good law because of Steward v. State, 652 N.E.2d 490, 498-99 (Ind. 1995). Steward addressed the question of admissibility of evidence of Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome, which deals with behaviors typical of child molesting victims. But question of whether that case, which held that CSAAS evidence couldn’t be used to show that child abuse occurred, would apply to behavioral evidence without the use of the term CSAAS hasn’t been addressed yet by any appellate court. The judges affirmed the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony that indirectly vouched for A.H.’s credibility.  

In State of Indiana v. Andy J. Velasquez II, No. 53A05-1003-CR-194, the judges also noted that Steward hadn’t been applied in other cases, and instead followed Stout v. State, 612 N.E.2d 1076, 1080 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993), in which the Court of Appeals found expert testimony that an individual’s subsequent behavior is consistent or inconsistent with that observed from other victims is a type of evidence which is admissible.

The Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in excluding the evidence of Kline, Spencer, and the grandmother because it improperly excluded it on the grounds that it constituted vouching. The state didn’t attempt to elicit testimony regarding whether G.S.’s allegations were true, but on her behavior or demeanor when discussing Velasquez. But even though the appellate court found the trial court erred in excluding this testimony, double jeopardy principles bar a second trial since Velasquez was acquitted, wrote Judge Carr Darden.

Judge Darden concurred in result in Hoglund, writing he couldn’t disagree with the legal reasoning of the majority, but noted he was concerned by the possible effect of the cumulative vouching testimony. It wasn’t until Velasquez’s attorney objected several times to the testimony of Dr. Butler did the trial court instruct the jury that her comment regarding her opinion on whether A.H. was truthful or not was stricken from the record. He also was concerned that statements by Shestak effectively expressed her belief in A.H.’s account of the allegations.

“Although, as stated, I find the cumulative vouching testimony heard by the jury to be troubling, there is ‘no entitlement to a perfect trial,’” he wrote. He found that the vouching testimony wasn’t so prejudicial that it required reversal.
 

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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