Can a jury rely on expert testimony regarding post traumatic stress syndrome to corroborate M's allegation of sexual assault?

California, United States of America

The following excerpt is from People v. Ruelas, C077651 (Cal. App. 2015):

relevant and admissible in this case because defendant challenged the credibility of M.'s molestation claim. (People v. Patino (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 1737, 1745.) Further, CALCRIM No. 1193 properly instructed the jury on the appropriate use of such evidence. Contrary to defendant's contention, the instruction did not "endorse" the jury's use of such evidence to bolster M.'s credibility. The instruction did not explicitly state or imply that jurors may use evidence of the syndrome to corroborate M.'s molestation claim. Rather, consistent with Housley, the instruction expressly informed the jury that Love's testimony "is not evidence that the defendant committed any of the crimes charged against him," and that they may consider the syndrome evidence only for the limited purpose of deciding whether M.'s behavior was not inconsistent with having been molested. (Italics added.) This is a correct statement of the law.

Love did not improperly render an opinion on M.'s credibility. (See People v. Housley, supra, 6 Cal.App.4th at p. 954.) He testified he had never met M. and was unfamiliar with the facts of this case. He also testified he was merely explaining behavior common to sexual abuse victims in general and was not offering an opinion on M.'s credibility.

Nor do we find the instruction improper because it allowed jurors to consider Love's testimony in evaluating the believability of M.'s testimony. M.'s credibility was a central issue in this case. M. delayed in reporting the abuse for a substantial period of time. At trial, defendant denied molesting M. and attacked her credibility by suggesting her behavior (i.e., delay in reporting the abuse) was inconsistent with her testimony claiming abuse. Defendant theorized M. fabricated her molestation claim because she was mad at defendant for punching her in the face. The People, therefore, were entitled to offer syndrome evidence as relevant to M.'s credibility. Expert testimony regarding the syndrome "is admissible to rehabilitate the complaining witness when the defendant impeaches her credibility." (People v. McAlpin, supra, 53 Cal.3d at p. 1300, italics

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