CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, EVIDENCE: Child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome: David Paul Sanderson v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (SC 5/21/2009)

David Paul Sanderson v. Commonwealth of Kentucky
2007-SC-000537-MR May 21, 2009
Opinion by Justice Noble; all sitting.

Sanderson was convicted of two counts of second-degree sodomy and three counts of firstdegree sexual abuse of his girlfriend’s minor daughter and was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment and five years conditional discharge. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial, holding that the trial court improperly admitted Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) evidence. The CSAAS testimony was offered by a psychologist to explain that victims of childhood sexual abuse often delay disclosure of the abuse for many years and may outwardly appear to be happy, welladjusted children. The Court cited the long standing rule in Kentucky that a party “cannot introduce evidence of the habit of a class of individuals either to prove that another member of the class 5 acted the same way under similar circumstances or to prove that the person was a member of that class because he/she acted the same way under similar circumstances.” The Court further noted that there is “no such thing as expertise in the credibility of children.”

The Court went on to address remaining assignments of error that were likely to occur upon retrial. The Court ruled that Sanderson’s sentence of 36 years exceeded the limit upon consecutive indeterminate sentences under KRS 532.110(1)(c) and 532.080(6) (b), and that if Sanderson was convicted of the same offenses upon retrial his maximum term of imprisonment would be 20 years. Furthermore, the Court held that Sanderson’s term of conditional discharge could not exceed three years since application of the amended version of KRS 532.043 amounted to an unconstitutional ex post facto law. Finally, the Court held that upon retrial, the social worker could not be allowed to give hearsay testimony about the child’s statements and “ultimate issue” testimony about the child’s credibility.

Justice Scott concurred in part and dissented in part, stating that Kentucky should join the majority of states which allow CSAAS evidence as rehabilitative testimony to explain the child’s conduct when the defense raises the issue of the delay in reporting alleged abuse. Justice Abramson concurred in result only, agreeing with Justice Scott’s assertion that it is time to reconsider the Court’s position on CSAAS testimony.

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