The Court continued: The State presented the above evidence at trial through various witnesses. Defense counsel highlighted the absence of physical evidence and challenged Bonnie’s credibility. The defense did not dispute the authenticity of the recording Bonnie made and told the jury that defendant “pleads guilty” to the child endangerment charge as a result.
Central to this appeal is the CSAAS evidence. Defendant tried to bar the testimony in advance. In a written opinion, the trial court denied defendant’s pretrial motion. Dr. Lynn Taska, a clinical psychologist, testified as an expert on CSAAS. Immediately before, the trial court gave the jury detailed instructions about how to consider her testimony; the court’s charge closely followed the model jury charge. Dr. Taska testified before Bonnie did. The prosecution referenced her testimony in summation and argued that “just because” child victims of sexual assault “don’t report the abuse, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be believed.” In the final instructions to the jury, the trial court again recited the model charge on CSAAS.
The jury convicted defendant of all four counts. On appeal, defendant challenged the admissibility of the CSAAS testimony. The Appellate Division affirmed the convictions. The Court granted defendant’s petition for certification limited to “whether the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the State’s expert regarding CSAAS,” and remanded to the trial court for a hearing “to determine whether CSAAS evidence meets the reliability standard of N.J.R.E. 702, in light of recent scientific evidence.” 229 N.J. 606, 607 (2017).
The Honorable Peter F. Bariso, Jr., A.J.S.C., presided over the hearing on remand. Four experts submitted reports and testified, and dozens of exhibits were introduced, including multiple published scientific articles. Judge Bariso found that the State failed to show general acceptance of CSAAS in the relevant scientific community, and concluded that there was consensus only as to delayed disclosure. Judge Bariso concluded that CSAAS evidence did not meet the standard for admissibility under N.J.R.E. 702.
It will be interesting to see if this case leads to a flood of post-conviction relief and reconsideration motions. Every defendant convicted in a case involving the unreliable CSAAS testimony could have a basis to vacate their convictions.