Law School Case Brief
Blount v. Commonwealth - 392 S.W.3d 393 (Ky. 2013)
Evidence of child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS) is not admissible because it lacks scientific acceptance. The Kentucky Supreme Court repeatedly expresses its distrust of expert testimony which purports to determine criminal conduct based on a perceived psychological syndrome. The multiple rationales for the specific rule against CSAAS testimony include the lack of diagnostic reliability, the lack of general acceptance within the discipline from which such testimony emanates, and the overwhelmingly persuasive nature of such testimony effectively dominating the decision-making process, uniquely the function of the jury. It does not matter that a witness listed the symptoms but refrained from classifying them directly as the child sexual abuse syndrome. Avoiding the term "syndrome" does not transform inadmissible hearsay into reliable scientific evidence.
Defendant Malcolm Blount was convicted in Kentucky state court for two counts of first-degree sodomy and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse against his step-granddaughter. On appeal, he claimed that the trial court erred by allowing testimony from the victim's mother, and to a lesser extent her father, regarding changes in the victim's behavior, which the mother implied were symptomatic of child sexual abuse based upon discussions she had with a clinical psychologist who counseled the victim and her family.
Did the trial court err in allowing the mother's testimony regarding child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome?
The state supreme court found that the admission of the evidence of the mother's testimony was improper. It held that the trial court incorrectly assumed that testimony regarding the victim's changed demeanor was permissible so long as it was not presented as expert testimony linking it to the sexual abuse alleged in the indictment. An expert would not have been permitted to testify that the victim's changes of behavior near the time of the alleged abuse were indicative of sexual abuse. It followed that a lay witness could not testify about the same behaviors by implying that an expert had told her that the changes were indicators of sexual abuse. Nonetheless, Blount was not entitled to reversal because, upon his request, the trial court admonished the jury to disregard the mother's testimony altogether.
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