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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. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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