Citation. State v. Kinney, 2011 VT 74, 190 Vt. 195, 27 A.3d 348, 2011)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Steven Kinney (Defendant) was convicted, following a jury trial, of kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and lewd and lascivious behavior. Defendant claims the sexual contact at issue and for which he was convicted was consensual, and appeals his conviction here.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Expert testimony concerning rape trauma syndrome is admissible, “to assist the jury in evaluating the evidence, and . . . to respond to defense claims that the victim’s behavior after the alleged rape was inconsistent with the claim that the rape occurred.” Expert testimony concerning the rate of false rape reporting, however, when offered as an explanation of the typical behavior of rape victims and “tantamount to an expert opinion that the victim was telling the truth,” is inadmissible.
Defendant (who, by his own admission, was intoxicated the night of the crimes) and three of his friends drove to another man’s house one night, hoping to purchase cocaine. Defendant entered the house and after a short time came out of the house carrying a young woman (Victim) over his shoulder.
Defendant claimed Victim came with him willingly, but Victim claimed she was taken from the bed where she was sleeping against her will, and that she repeatedly asked to be let out of the car where Defendant took her.
Defendant, Victim, and the others arrived at a party and entered the house where the party was being held. Defendant claimed Victim walked into the house, “of her own volition,” but Victim claimed she was pulled into the house by her arm. One of Defendant’s friends that accompanied the two that night testified that Victim was dragged into the house, “like a puppy dog.”
After leaving the party, Defendant and Victim went to Defendant’s parents’ house, where the sexual intercourse at issue took place. Defendant claimed the sex was consensual, while Victim claims she was raped by Defendant.
The next morning, Victim was taken home by a friend of Defendant’s, and Defendant was eventually charged with and convicted of kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and lewd and lascivious behavior.
Did the trial court error in admitting the expert testimony of Dr. Tyler concerning rape trauma syndrome at Defendant’s trial?
Did the trial court error in admitting the expert testimony of Dr. Tyler concerning the incidence of false reporting by rape victims?
No; the evidence was sufficiently reliable to assist the jury in determining the ultimate issue, and was therefore properly admitted.
Yes; the testimony related to the incidence of false reporting was prejudicial and, “invaded the proper role of the jury” and therefore should not have been admitted. However, no plain error occurred, as the court’s failure to exclude the evidence did not result in a “miscarriage of justice.”
As to the rape trauma syndrome evidence, the court pointed to past decisions, in which evidence of the same type was held admissible. The court acknowledged that it had, “never explicitly ruled upon the admissibility of evidence of rape trauma syndrome,” but further stated that the trial court is the proper court to determine whether the evidence is admissible. Pointing out that, “the jury may be at a loss to understand the behavior of the rape victim,” the court concluded that, “[f]or the purpose the evidence was used here, it is sufficiently reliable to be admitted.”
As to the evidence related to the incidence of false rape reporting, the court followed past decisions that held similar testimony to be, “tantamount to an expert opinion that the victim was telling the truth . . . [which therefore] invaded the proper role of the jury.” The court concluded that here, “Dr. Tyler’s testimony on the rate of false reporting clearly went over the line as explained [in past decisions].” Reasoning that “the jury could infer from her testimony that scientific studies have shown that almost no woman falsely claims to have been raped and convict Defendant on that basis,” the court concluded that the evidence was, “inadmissible and prejudicial.” However, the court affirms the trial court’s decision because the, “failure to exclude the inadmissible expert testimony [did not cause] a miscarriage of justice,” so no plain error was present. Notably, the issue was not preserved for appeal, so the court’s review is only for plain error, which the court did not find.