Justices affirm molestation conviction despite vouching testimony

July 30, 2015

A man’s conviction of Class C felony child molestation was affirmed Thursday by the Indiana Supreme Court, which held that even though improper vouching testimony was admitted in error, the defendant failed to preserve the issue for appeal.

Justices unanimously affirmed the conviction and one-year executed prison sentence imposed in Craig Sampson v. State of Indiana, 87S01-1410-CR-684. Sampson, whose conviction for fondling a 10-year-old girl previously was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, argued that testimony should not have been admitted from a witness who conducted a forensic interview with the victim and testified that she didn’t believe the victim had been coached.

“Although the State was careful to limit (the witness’s) comments to her observations of coaching indicators, this was neither in response to defense questioning, nor to rebut an express claim that (the victim) had been coached. This testimony was thus improper because ‘indirect vouching testimony is little different than testimony that the child witness is telling the truth,’” Justice Robert Rucker wrote for the court, citing Hoglund v. State, 962 N.E.2d 1230 (Ind. 2012). “However … Sampson did not object to this testimony,” thus leaving only a fundamental error challenge.

“We conclude … that the subtle distinction between an expert’s testimony that a child has or has not been coached versus an experts testimony that the child did or did not exhibit any ‘signs or indicators’ of coaching is insufficient to guard against the dangers such testimony will constitute impermissible vouching as we expressed in Hoglund,” Rucker wrote.

“We thus align ourselves with those jurisdictions that permit testimony about the signs of coaching and whether a child exhibited such signs or has or has not been coached, provided the defendant has opened the door to such testimony,” the panel held.

“At stake in this case was the credibility of the alleged victim, S.B., who was thoroughly questioned on cross-examination and whose testimony did not waver from that given during direct examination,” Rucker wrote. It was within the province of the jury to credit the victim’s testimony over that of Sampson, who took the stand to deny he fondled the victim, and the defense thoroughly cross-examined the witness who interviewed the victim.

“In sum, Sampson’s fundamental error argument fails,” Rucker wrote.



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