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Court of Appeals: PTSD Assessment Admissible in Child Sex Abuse Case

May 4, 2015

In Reinhard v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for rape, aggravated sexual battery, child molestation and enticing a child for indecent purposes.

The defendant was accused of molesting both his daughter and his niece. A therapist testified at trial that the daughter suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that her symptoms were consistent with a child suffering from serious trauma as a result of sexual abuse. On appeal, the defendant contended that the testimony from the therapist should have been excluded because it improperly bolstered the girl’s credibility and the State did not establish that the PTSD tests administered by the therapist were admissible under Harper v. State.

The Court of Appeals noted that evidence that “certain medical or scientific tests resulted in findings consistent with molestation” is admissible. The Court also pointed out that the trial court instructed the jury that whether the defendant’s daughter was credible was to be determined by the jury, not by any of the other witnesses. The Court then concluded that the therapist’s testimony that the daughter suffered from PTSD was admissible.

In criminal cases, scientific evidence is not admissible unless the methods employed have “reached a scientific stage of verifiable certainty.” Here, the therapist testified that her evaluations were based on conversations with the children and standardized assessments. According to her, the assessments have been widely accepted in the mental health community as accurate and reliable. Additionally, one of the tests includes a validity check that determines whether a child is over-reporting or under-reporting symptoms.

Based on these facts, the Court held that the PTSD assessments had reached the required degree of scientific certainty, rendering them admissible under Georgia’s Harper standard.

The Court also affirmed the trial court’s denial of a mistrial after the State failed to disclose ten pages of notes from the therapist until right before the trial began. Georgia’s criminal discovery statute, O.C.G.A. § 17-16-4(a)(4), requires the State to disclose any scientific records or test results it may use at least ten days prior to trial. Here, the State learned that the daughter had been seeing a therapist two weeks before trial, and immediately notified the defendant that the therapist might testify. The State disclosed the notes in question shortly after it received them from the therapist.

The defendant asked for a continuance in order to review the notes. Since the therapist was scheduled to leave the country the next day, the trial court granted a short continuance so that defense counsel could read the notes before the therapist testified. The Court of Appeals held that this was not an abuse of discretion, since the defendant knew the therapist would testify two weeks before trial, but waited until the trial began to request a continuance.

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