Conviction of Sexual Abuse of a Minor Reversed After a Treating Doctor’s Testimony Was Improperly Admitted During Trial

State v. G.W.

Appellate Docket No.: A-2310-18

Decided October 7, 2021

Submitted by New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a jury conviction of sexual abuse of a minor after a treating doctor’s testimony was improperly admitted during trial.

In State v. G.W., tried to a jury, defendant G.W. was convicted of sexually assaulting and endangering the welfare of his step-granddaughter, T.S. (Tess), on six occasions when the child was between the ages of nine and twelve. During the five-day trial, the State presented the testimony of Tess; her mother and sister, who both testified as fresh-complaint witnesses; the lead detective, through whom defendant’s largely exculpatory statement was introduced in evidence; and Stephanie Lanese, M.D., who testified as a lay witness. Dr. Lanese’s physical examination revealed no evidence of injury; she opined that Tess had been sexually abused based on the child’s account of the incidents.

Defendant did not testify but presented the testimony of his wife and three character witnesses. The parties stipulated that preliminary testing performed on Tess’s bedding and clothing “resulted in no additional examination or testing, including any DNA or DNA comparisons.” The jury deliberated over the course of two trial days, during which they requested playback of defendant’s one-hour and-twenty-minute statement.

The court imposed six consecutive six-year prison sentences for an aggregate term of thirty-six years, subject to the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. Defendant was sixty-four years old at the time of sentencing. He had no prior criminal record.

Defendant appealed the conviction, arguing the testimony of the treating physician was improperly admitted. The Appellate Division agreed. The Court found that because Defendant did not object at the time of the testimony, the conviction was reviewed under the plain error standard.  Nonetheless, the Court did find plain error, as the treating physician could testify as to the victim’s statements if they relate to treatment and diagnosis, however, the there was an overly-detailed account of events and conclusions drawn that exceeded the victim’s testimony.  For instance, the victim provided an account of a burning sensation in her private area, but a physical examination was normal. The physician improperly accepted the victim’s account of attributing the feeling to the defendant, despite an absence of medical findings.

What’s more, the treating physician improperly opined on the ultimate question, that the defendant was guilty of the accused conduct. This testimony was not only improper as lay testimony, even if the treating physician was qualified as an expert, it would still have been improper.

Due to the treating physicians improper testimony, defendant’s conviction was reversed and a new trial was ordered.

This case is important to understand the allowable scope of testimony for a doctor in a criminal setting. A treating physician does not have to be qualified as an expert to testify, and the doctor can provide statements of the victim as an exception to hearsay if they relate to treatment and diagnosis. However, statements that exceed treatment and diagnosis, as in the case here, are not permissible. What’s more, the doctor cannot make the conclusion of guilt, as that is the jury’s task.

The defendant is also fortunate in this case because his attorney failed to object at the time, leading to a higher standard of review on appeal – the “plain error” standard. Otherwise, if there was a timely objection that was overruled, it would have been on a much more lenient de novo standard for legal conclusions.

If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a domestic violence incident, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended. Knowledge of evidence issues like above is crucial for an adequate defense.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.


We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington ,Haddon Heights ,Pine Hill ,Bellmawr ,Haddon Township , Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.


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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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