Experts in Sex Offense Trials Take Away Job of Jury

Experts in Sex Offense Trials Take Away Job of Jury

Last week the Pennsylvania General Assembly unanimously approved and the Governor signed an amendment to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5920, which allows potential expert testimony in criminal cases involving sex offenses. You can read the amendments here.

In essence, the General Assembly found that that an expert should be allowed to testify to an alleged sex assault victim’s responses and behaviors following an alleged sexual assault. The law says that the expert is not to testify as to the credibility or believability of the witness.  But, that’s exactly the goal of this legislation.  The hope is that the expert will bolster the alleged victim’s credibility by explaining away why a “prompt complaint” of the act was not made.  The expert is essentially going to try and take the credibility decision away from the jury and say, “The victim shouldn’t not be believed because he/she didn’t report the assault right away because…

[fill in the blank with a supposed scientific reason]”. But, there isn’t a science behind this and that’s why this law is dangerous.  Every case, ever situation and every person who alleges a sexual assault is different.  And, a psychologist, victim witness coordinator or other “expert” should not be telling the jury who to believe because that “expert” enters the courtroom with their own biases.

Many Sexual Assaults in Philadelphia Go Unreported

Many individuals who claim they were sexually assaulted do not report the alleged assault right away.  Some wait weeks, months or even years.  Why do they do that if this horrible crime was perpetrated on them? Well, there could be all different reasons.  It could be that the alleged victim is very young and doesn’t know that what happened to them is even wrong.  Or, if the alleged victim does know it’s wrong, they don’t know who to tell, are embarrassed or ashamed to tell or they’re scared that no one will believe them.  However, one may not tell because they don’t want their parents to know they’re sexually active.  Or, the sexual encounter may’ve never taken place or was a consensual act but is later alleged to be an assault because the alleged victim finds out that the other is cheating on them, the alleged perpetrator wronged someone else in their family or for some other nefarious reason.

Sexual Assault Charges in Philadelphia are Tough Cases

These cases are very fact specific and often come down to the credibility of the alleged victim.  Most sexual acts, consensual or not, often occur behind closed doors so the only people there are the two involved.  If it’s not reported right away, there is generally no physical evidence (DNA, medical reports of physical injuries, a crime scene showing a struggle, etc.).  So, the jury is left to answer one question:  Do we believe the alleged victim beyond a reasonable doubt?

These are very tough cases from both the defense and prosecution side.  But, again, they are very fact-specific. Everyone responds to situations differently and comes to court with their own reasons for testifying truthfully or not.  And, the jury must determine the facts not an expert and certainly not politicians in Harrisburg.

If you have been or believe you may be accused of sexual assault or any other crime, contact Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Brian Fishman for a free consultation.