CSAAS Testimony and Retroactivity (Part 4)

by | Jan 2, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: When all factors bearing upon retroactivity are weighed — whether the rule’s purpose “would be furthered by a retroactive application,” the State’s reliance on the previous rule, and “the effect a retroactive application would have on the administration of justice,” State v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208, 300 (2011) — pipeline retroactivity is appropriate. Considering the evidence presented in G.E.P.’s case, the admission of CSAAS testimony did not deny him a fair trial, and the Court reverses the Appellate Division’s judgment as to him. As to R.P., C.P., and C.K., the CSAAS testimony bolstering the alleged victims’ testimony was clearly capable of producing an unjust result, and their convictions were thus properly reversed by the Appellate Division.

The underlying legal question in deciding whether a holding will be applied retroactively is whether it announced a new rule of law. The Court first considered and found admissible CSAAS expert testimony in State v. J.Q., 130 N.J. 554, 556 (1993). In a series of later cases, the Court narrowed the permissible scope of CSAAS testimony but did not “reassess the scientific underpinning of CSAAS evidence.” In 2018, the J.L.G. Court limited the use of CSAAS evidence to “delayed disclosure,” stating that “testimony should not stray from explaining that delayed disclosure commonly occurs among victims of child sexual abuse, and offering a basis for that conclusion”; the Court added that the facts of each case will determine whether delayed disclosure expert testimony is needed. 234 N.J. at 303, 305.

Plainly, in J.L.G., the Court announced a new rule — “expert testimony about CSAAS in general, and its component behaviors other than delayed disclosure, may no longer be admitted at criminal trials.” Id. at 272. Because J.L.G. announced and applied a new rule of law, the Court now considers whether that rule should have prospective application only (aside from J.L.G.); pipeline retroactivity, which would render it applicable to any cases still on direct appeal, as well as to future cases; or complete retroactive effect.

The “future cases” referenced by the Court involve cases that involved CSAAS testimony and that were appealed but not yet decided at the time of the Appellate Division’s consolidation of the four cases at issue. They also involve cases that were tried and within 45 days from the related conviction and sentencing. 45 days is the cut-off for filing an appeal from a judgment of conviction, with limited exceptions.