CSAAS Testimony and Retroactivity (Part 3)

by | Dec 31, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: “Julie” testified that her abuse began when she was six years old and living in a one-bedroom trailer with C.K., her biological father, as well as her mother, younger sister, and brother. Julie detailed how C.K. would pull down her pants, touch her vagina, and digitally penetrate her at night while her mom was away at work and her younger sister was asleep. Approximately ten years after the alleged abuse began, C.K. asked Julie why she was not respecting him. Julie testified that she responded rhetorically, “Why would I respect someone who raped me[?]” About a week later, Julie confided in a friend from school about C.K.’s abuse. The friend told her mother, who reported the abuse. C.K. was later arrested and indicted. At trial, Julie testified about the abuse, her comment to C.K. about not respecting someone who raped her (which Julie’s mother confirmed in her testimony), and her disclosure of the abuse to her friend. The State also presented expert CSAAS testimony. The court gave general expert witness instructions but not CSAAS instructions. The jury convicted C.K. of three counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, four counts of second-degree sexual assault, and two counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Each of the defendants appealed, and the Appellate Division consolidated the cases. 458 N.J. Super. 436 (App. Div. 2019). “Because all four cases were pending on appeal at the time J.L.G. was issued,” the court limited its retroactivity review to “whether pipeline retroactivity is appropriate.” Id. at 446. It concluded that pipeline retroactivity “would afford defendants relief from unfair convictions, while not unduly burdening the criminal justice system.” Id. at 447. The court ultimately determined that “the admission of CSAAS expert testimony in these four cases calls into question the validity of each guilty verdict” and reversed defendants’ convictions. Id. at 443.

The phrase “without unduly unburdening the criminal justice system” makes for some interesting arguments. From the defense perspective, every wrongful conviction “burdens the criminal justice system.” Retroactive application should therefore be considered in all related cases.