CSAAS Testimony and Retroactivity (Part 1)

by | Dec 27, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On August 5, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the companion cases of State v. G.E.P., State v. C.P., and State v. C.K. The principal issue concerned whether the Court’s 2018 holding invalidating Child Sex Abuse Accommodation Syndrome expert testimony should apply retroactively.

Justice Solomon wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) includes five “preconditions” that purportedly explain behaviors exhibited by sexually abused children: secrecy; helplessness; entrapment and accommodation; delayed, conflicted, and unconvincing disclosure; and retraction. In State v. J.L.G., the Court rejected the use of CSAAS evidence — with the exception of certain testimony concerning delayed disclosure — as lacking “a sufficiently reliable basis in science to be the subject of expert testimony.” 234 N.J. 265, 272 (2018). In these consolidated appeals, the Court considers whether J.L.G.’s invalidation of CSAAS evidence should apply retroactively.

G.E.P., R.P., C.P., and C.K. were convicted and sentenced for committing sexual crimes against children. The State claims that G.E.P. repeatedly sexually assaulted “Jane” during a ten-year period beginning in the mid-1980s. According to Jane, the abuse began when she was six or seven years old and G.E.P. was twenty-six or twenty-seven and living with Jane and her mother. According to Jane, in addition to other forms of abuse, G.E.P. occasionally bound her breasts with Velcro straps, placed rubber bands and clothespins on her nipples, and made her wear bras with holes cut out. Years later, Jane reported her sexual abuse to police, allegedly out of fear that G.E.P. would abuse his newly adopted daughter. At the urging of police, Jane agreed to call G.E.P. and permitted a detective to record the conversation. While G.E.P. did not admit to any specific sexual activity on the recorded call with Jane, his responses were damning, compelling evidence of guilt. A subsequent search of G.E.P.’s office revealed a plastic bag containing a bra and a toiletry bag containing rope, Velcro straps, rubber bands, and clothespins.

During Jane’s testimony, the State played audio of the recorded phone call between Jane and G.E.P. The State also introduced the items seized from G.E.P.’s office, and Jane testified that the items were similar to those G.E.P. had used. Over objections by G.E.P., the trial court allowed the State to present expert CSAAS testimony and provided CSAAS instructions to the jury that largely tracked the model jury charge then in effect. G.E.P. was convicted of six counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and seven counts of second-degree sexual assault.

It is difficult to read this summary of the trial testimony while objectively assessing whether the Court’s ruling should benefit the defendant. The flip side of this difficulty is that while many people get away with sexual crimes against children, many people are also wrongfully convicted due to the new debunked CSAAS testimony.