Child Sex Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) and Expert Testimony in New Jersey
Submitted by New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In this case the Supreme Court directed the trial court to examine the ability of the State to introduction expert testimony concerning child sex abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS).
This case study is a perfect example of the trial court acting as the gatekeeper, allowing or not allowing the jury to hear expert testimony evidence which has not been generally accepted and recognized as scientifically reliable pursuing to New Jersey Rule of Evidence 702.
There have been numerous cases, and I have written numerous blogs, addressing this Rule of Evidence. In this case the state wanted to introduce the testimony of several doctors regarding CSAAS in order to persuade the jury that the alleged victim was testifying similar to that diagnosis/syndrome and as a result she too was a victim caused by the defendant.
The case was remainder from the Supreme Court of New Jersey to examine this very issue. Because the testimony could be so prejudicial a trial court held an extensive hearing to determine if child sexual assault accommodation syndrome is a generally accepted diagnostic tool and sufficiently reliable.
The court found the testimony from the doctors’ revealed they all agreed that CSAAS was not a clinical diagnosis but was merely a list of factors which were most ‘characteristic of abuse’ which was created not as a laboratory hypothesis but was used as a roadmap for clinicians to advocate for their patients in the courtroom setting. The prosecutors in this case wanted to use the diagnosis as an educator tool to help the jury determine the characteristics that existed in children who were assaulted. This would enable the jury to evaluate the characteristics of the alleged victim in this case to determine if they are the same or similar resulting in a conclusion that this victim was assaulted. However, all the parties agreed that the CSAAS Siri cannot be used to diagnose or predict sexual abuse. In addition the word “syndrome” was not accurate as well.
The court then goes on to evaluate the CSAAS term and psychology under the long-standing Frye and Daubert US Supreme Court gate keeping expert testimony rules. The court determined this could be considered a possibly “newly divised scientific technology” which must be examined under the existing case for. However, the state must prove that any “newly devised technology “must have been “clearly” established within the scientific community and an extraordinarily high level of burden of proof must be overcome to allow such novel and new scientific technique to be introduced to the jury.
In this case the court found that the “relevant scientific community”
includes treating clinicians and scientist who are “involved in the diagnostic treatment and care of child abuse victims”. The court then examine the credentials of the four experts presented by the state and the defense in this case. The court found that all for experts are qualified to testify regarding child psychology and child sexual abuse in addition to the fact that they were leading proponents of scientific technique or theory. However the court found that two of the experts had significant financial interest in ensuring that the CSAAS diagnostic tool not be ignored by the courts due to the fact that they had testified in many cases involving child sexual assault and victimization. The court all right also recognize that there has not been any hearing conducted in any jurisdiction acknowledging and accepting CSAAS as a generally excepted scientific theory by majority of experts. In fact there have been other jurisdictions that have rejected and prohibited juries from hearing and considering the CSAAS testimony. After an exhaustive evaluation of the many factors that are included in a CSAAS diagnosis, the court recognized the very expert testimony concludes there is no consensus among the scientific community regarding the very foundation tenants of CSAAS. As a result, the lack of consensus among the scientific community makes a CSAAS diagnosis a scientifically unreliable evidentiary tool that should be presented to the jury.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.