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'Vouching testimony' not allowed in child sex abuse cases

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The state’s rules of evidence don’t allow for “vouching testimony” in child sex abuse cases to help determine when a youth isn’t exaggerating, and the Indiana Supreme Court won’t carve out an exception allowing for that testimony in these types of cases.

In Keith Hoglund v. State of Indiana, No. 90S02-1105-CR-294, the justices affirmed a judgment from Wells County that found sufficient evidence to support two Class A felony child molesting convictions and a 50-year sentence for Keith Hoglund.

Hoglund allegedly had sexually abused and showed pornographic material to one of his daughters, who was 4 years old at the time. At trial, the state called as expert witnesses a pediatrician, clinical psychologist, and mental health counselor who evaluated the girl. They each testified that the girl was “not prone to exaggerate or fantasize” about sexual matters.  The jury convicted Hoglund on two counts of child molesting, but because of double jeopardy concerns, sentenced him to 50 years on only one count.

Hoglund challenged on appeal the admission of the vouching testimony. Last year, a divided Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentence.

The Indiana justices addressed an issue that hasn’t been ruled on before – the interaction between the state’s rules of evidence and a 1984 decision in Lawrence v. State, 464 N.E. 2d 923, 925 (Ind. 1984), that allowed for corroboration of a child’s testimony in court.

The justices pointed out that Indiana is in the minority of allowing some form of vouching for child witness testimony in these types of cases. This decision gave the Indiana Supreme Court the chance to revisit Lawrence to determine whether testimony that a child witness isn’t “prone to exaggerate or fantasize about sexual matters” is consistent with Rule 704(b) prohibiting witnesses from testifying about another witnesses “truthfulness,” and whether that precedent should be interpreted as an exception to the rule of evidence.

Justice Robert Rucker wrote that in a few cases, the Court of Appeals has interpreted Lawrence as representing an exception to Rule 704(b) about permissible witness testimony, but the justices decided that a shift in public attitudes concerning allegations of child sex abuse undermines the necessity to carve out an exception.

Even though the trial court allowed the evidence improperly, the justices ruled that the admission of vouching testimony was harmless and other evidence supports the convictions and sentence.

“To summarize, we expressly overrule that portion of Lawrence allowing for ‘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,’” Rucker wrote. “This indirect vouching testimony is little different than testimony that the child witness is telling the truth. As such it is at odds with Evidence Rule 704(b). Further, we decline to carve out an exception to the rule for sex abuse cases.”

In a footnote, Rucker wrote that this new rule doesn’t undercut the court’s decision in Carter v. State, 754 N.E.2d 877 (Ind. 2001), which involved testimony from an autistic child and a psychologist who was allowed as an expert to “supplement the jurors’ insight.”

 

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  1. Hello currently just withdrew from laporte county drug court and now I have lost the woman I love which also was in drugcourt and was put in jail without a,lawyer presentfor her own safety according to the judge and they told her she could have a hearing in two weeks and now going on 30days and still in jail no court date and her public defender talks like he,s bout to just sell her up the river.

  2. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  3. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  4. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  5. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

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