In Canty v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed Martin Canty’s convictions for child molestation and aggravated sexual battery despite the defendant’s claims that the State’s witnesses improperly bolstered the credibility of the alleged victim and improperly testified concerning child abuse accommodation syndrome (CAAS).
The allegations in the case were that the alleged victim (T.M.), a four year-old girl, was molested by her step-grandfather while he was bathing her.
At trial, the State called Anique Whitmore who works as a forensic interviewer for the DA’s office. During her testimony, the State questioned her about CAAS and asked her to explain the syndrome to the jury. Canty objected to the question, and the prosecutor responded, “Based on what happened in open court yesterday [when T.M. was unable to testify because she was upset], we believe that this area is particularly important for the jury to understand what may have been the cause of some of [T.M.’s] response.” Canty argued that such a statement by the prosecutor, coupled with Whitmore’s testimony regarding the general features of CAAS, amounted to an opinion that T.M. was in fact abused by Canty. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the testimony was admissible since Whitmore only spoke about the syndrome in general terms and never testified that T.M.’s conduct was consistent with CAAS or that her inability to testify was the result of having been abused by Canty.
Canty also argued that Heidi Reese-Anderson, who conducted the first forensic interview, improperly bolstered T.M.’s credibility when asked by the prosecution whether she observed any evidence of suggestion when interviewing T. M. and Reese-Anderson replied that she had not. The Court of Appeals held that this statement did not amount to improper bolstering and noted that the Court has held repeatedly that expert witnesses may testify regarding their observations of tactics such as coaching or deception during forensic interviews with the alleged child victim. The Court held that Reese-Anderson did not directly comment on T. M.’s general truthfulness or address the ultimate issue of whether she had been abused.
NOTE: Child abuse accommodation syndrome (CAAS) was initially developed in 1983 by Dr. Roland Summit to set forth a theory as to why some children who have been sexually abused have difficulty disclosing it to others. Claims that CAAS can be used as a tool to diagnose or detect sexual abuse have been widely criticized in the scientific and legal communities and testimony concerning the syndrome has been held to be inadmissible in a number of cases throughout the country.
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