In Harris v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for kidnapping and rape, holding that the trial court did not err in admitting an expert witness’ statement that “[n]ational statistics show that less [than] one percent of people falsely report rape.”
The Court held that an expert witness may testify as to certain typical patterns of behavior exhibited by victims of rape, as long as the jury makes the final conclusion as to whether the victim in the specific case was raped.
At trial, the State presented the testimony of an expert in the psychology of rape. The expert admitted that she had not reviewed the record or interviewed the victim, and had “no idea” whether the victim in this case had been raped. Instead, she testified about generalized patterns of behavior frequently exhibited by rape victims.
Defense counsel asked the expert witness several questions related to false rape accusations. In response to these questions, the expert stated that she had never knowingly received a fabricated allegation of rape. Counsel then asked “So[,] someone comes in, tells you something, you’re on board; right?” The witness responded “Correct. Nationally, statistics show that less [than] 1 percent of people falsely report rape.” Counsel objected to the statement, asserting that it was irrelevant and immaterial and would not assist the jury in determining guilt or innocence. The trial court overruled the objection. On appeal, the defense argued that the trial court erred in admitting the statement because it improperly bolstered the victim’s credibility and invaded the province of the jury.
The Court of Appeals held that the statement was properly admitted. The Court noted that the defense attorney elicited the response through his questioning of the witness. Additionally, the Court has previously held that “an expert witness may testify as to the existence of certain typical patterns of behavior exhibited by victims of rape,” as long as the jury is permitted to decide for itself whether the victim in the particular case was raped. Here, the Court concluded that the jury was allowed to make that conclusion for themselves because the expert admitted that she had not met the victim and could offer no opinion as to whether this particular victim was raped. Thus, the Court held that the trial court did not err in admitting the expert witness’ testimony.
What’s interesting about this case is that the expert’s testimony went unchallenged—despite the fact that well recognized studies have concluded that as many as 8% of rape allegations are false. See, Turvey, Brent E., Forensic Victimology: Examining Violent Crime Victims in Investigative and Legal Contexts, Academic Press (p. 265) (2013). Defense attorneys need to be wary of experts rattling off statistics like this without any authority to support it. Being well prepared to combat this type of expert testimony can often times make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal at trial.
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