For more than 20 years, Pennsylvania courts did not allow prosecutors to present evidence as to why victims of sex abuse did not report the abuse for months or even years after the abuse. This has since changed as of January 2016. A new Pennsylvania law was passed which now allows psychological experts to explain why victims of sex abuse wait years after the abuse to finally tell someone they trust or report it to the authorities.
Why Expert Testimony Was Excluded Previously
In 1992, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Dunkle held that expert testimony about Child Sexual Abuse Syndrome invited speculation and therefore was not allowed in criminal cases. Further, the court provided that expert testimony regarding delayed reporting of abuse by victims was “easily understood by lay people and did not require expert analysis.” In addition, PA courts have historically feared that such expert testimony would improperly sway jurors toward convictions. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Dunkle (PA Supreme Court, 1992)
The New Law Regarding Expert Testimony in Child Sex Abuse Cases
The new law was written in response to the sex abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, the former football coach at Penn State. The law was actually signed by PA Governor Tom Corbett one week after Sandusky was convicted in 2012. The law, however, was not passed due to a constitutional challenge which argued that the PA Legislature overstepped its authority. In January 2016, the PA Supreme Court issued its ruling allowing such expert testimony to be admitted. The court found that expert testimony will likely help jurors more than it will confuse them. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Olivo, (PA Supreme Court, 2015)
Supporters of the law such as prosecutors believe that expert testimony will help jurors understand some of the victims’ counterintuitive behaviors, such as delayed reporting or not physically resisting their abusers.
This law will help prosecutors in Pennsylvania present their cases and rebut arguments advanced by defendants. However, defendants will also be allowed to present their own experts on the issue. It will be interesting to see how this law affects future sex abuse criminal cases.
Civil Sex Abuse Cases
The criminal justice system and the civil justice system are entirely different from each other. This recent Supreme Court ruling applies to criminal cases. It is important for sex abuse victims to know that even if their criminal sex abuse case is not successful, they may still pursue a civil case. Therefore, victims of sex abuse should speak to a PA civil sex abuse lawyer who can best explain their legal rights.
About Brian Kent, a PA and NJ Sex Crime Victims Lawyer
Brian Kent, Esq. is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who is now a civil Pennsylvania and New Jersey sex abuse lawyer. He has helped numerous victims of sex abuse in PA, NJ and Delaware. Mr. Kent also regularly handles cases in other states by obtaining special court admission (pro hac vice) and offers FREE confidential consultations. Click To Call
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Source: www.lehighvalleylive.com (New law allows expert testimony about delayed reporting of sex abuse