Com. v. Baldwin

Decision Date06 December 1985
Citation502 A.2d 253,348 Pa.Super. 368
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Robert BALDWIN, Appellant. 01724 Phila. 1983.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Joseph B. Vanwyk, Media, for appellant.

Dennis C. McAndrews, Asst. Dist. Atty., Wayne, for Com., appellee.


BECK, Judge:

Appellant Robert Baldwin appeals from judgment of sentence entered on convictions of rape, incest and corrupting the morals of a child. The charges arose out of a course of conduct in which appellant forced his teenage daughter to engage in intercourse and other sexual activity with him.

Baldwin raises the following issues on appeal:

(1) The trial court erred in allowing the Commonwealth to call as an expert witness a social worker who had counseled the victim and who testified concerning patterns of intrafamilial sexual abuse;

(2) Appellant was denied a fair trial by the Commonwealth's withholding of exculpatory evidence despite appellant's requests for disclosure;

(3) Trial counsel was ineffective for not attempting to present to the jury evidence of sexual activity between the victim and her stepbrother to explain away the social worker's testimony and/or to utilize such evidence to argue that the social worker's testimony should not be admitted; and

(4) An evidentiary hearing is necessary to determine whether counsel was ineffective for failing to subpoena and review certain agency records, failing to recall certain Commonwealth witnesses for further cross-examination, failing to interview certain other witnesses and failing to accept a mistrial offered by the trial court.

We affirm. The trial court's opinion at pp. 8-12 adequately addresses appellant's issue (2). We therefore address only issues (1), (3) and (4) in this opinion.

Social Worker's Testimony

At trial the Commonwealth called as an expert witness Ralph Battinieri, a social worker with the Delaware County Department of Children and Youth Services ("CYS"). Battinieri had counseled the victim after she had left her home and reported the incidents of abuse, but he did not testify specifically about the victim herself or his work with her. Rather, his direct testimony 1 was framed in general terms and was intended to explain the dynamics of intra-family sexual abuse and the behavior patterns of the victims. Battinieri testified regarding the effects of the incestuous relationship on the victim's self-esteem, the psychological forces which cause the victim to keep the incest a secret for a long time, and why victims are often unable to recall exact dates or times or describe specific incidents in detail.

On appeal, appellant does not challenge Battinieri's qualifications in the field of child sexual abuse. Rather, appellant argues first that the evidence is irrelevant and secondly that Mr. Battinieri effectively testified that the victim was a credible witness, thereby usurping the jury's credibility-determining function and prejudicially labeling the witness as an incest victim. The Commonwealth contends that Battinieri did not refer to the victim herself as an incest victim or comment on her credibility and that his testimony was relevant and properly admitted because it assisted the jury in understanding and evaluating the victim's testimony.

We agree with the Commonwealth and hold that the testimony of a properly qualified expert concerning the psychological dynamics of incest and the behavioral patterns of incest victims is admissible in prosecutions for incest and/or related crimes because the evidence is relevant and is a proper subject for expert testimony.

Appellant's two grounds of objection to Battinieri's testimony are somewhat inconsistent. On the one hand, appellant argues that the evidence is irrelevant because it consisted of generalizations about victim behavior which did not bear on the particular factual allegations of the instant case. On the other hand, in contending that the social worker impermissibly usurped the jury's credibility-assessing role, appellant is not claiming that the evidence is irrelevant, but rather that it is in a sense too relevant, because it prejudices the jury's resolution of an undeniably material issue, the victim's credibility.

"Evidence is relevant if it tends to make more or less probable the existence of some fact material to the case, it tends to establish facts in issue or when it in some degree advances the inquiry and thus has probative value." Commonwealth v. Shain, 324 Pa.Super. 456, 462, 471 A.2d 1246, 1249 (1984). Under this standard there can be no question that Battinieri's expert testimony is relevant. The evidence does tend to make material facts more probable and advance the inquiry because the jury can infer that the gaps and inconsistencies in the victim's testimony stem from the psychological dynamics of incest rather than from any fabrication or fantasy. We believe the real issue here is whether the evidence, although relevant, is prejudicial because it is an improper comment on credibility or not a proper subject for expert testimony.

The admissibility of expert testimony on the dynamics of child sexual abuse and the behavioral patterns of victims has been addressed only peripherally by our courts. In Commonwealth v. Stago, 267 Pa.Super. 90, 406 A.2d 533 (1979), the defendant was convicted of rape, incest and other offenses on evidence that he sexually abused his daughter. Noting that the defendant "contend[ed] that the court erred in allowing [the victim's] treating psychologist to give his opinion of [her] credibility," this Court held, "Our review of the record shows that the psychologist gave no such opinion; accordingly, this contention is without merit." Id. at 96, 406 A.2d at 535. However, the opinion contains no further discussion of the issue and does not reveal the substance of the psychologist's testimony beyond stating that he "testified that child-victims of incest frequently felt depressed, guilty and angry and required psychiatric care and hospitalization." Id.

In Commonwealth v. Gaerttner, 335 Pa.Super. 203, 484 A.2d 92 (1984), also a case involving child sexual abuse, the victim was mentally retarded, and a clinical psychologist testified regarding her ability to fabricate a story and the way she perceived and remembered events. In deciding a claim that defense counsel was not ineffective for not challenging the competency of the complaining witness, we noted that "[t]he testimony goes not to the witness' competency to testify but to her credibility as a witness," id. at 215, 484 A.2d at 99, and there is no suggestion that the testimony was objectionable because it went to the victim's credibility. However, in Gaerttner this Court was not asked to rule on the admissibility of the psychologist's testimony, and in any case the psychologist's testimony appears to be concerned with the victim's retardation more than the effects of the sexual assault.

The courts of several other jurisdictions have considered the issue, though, and have held that expert testimony regarding the behavior patterns of child sexual abuse victims was properly admitted. See, e.g., People v. Dunnahoo, 152 Cal.App.3d 561, 199 Cal.Rptr. 796 (1984); State v. Kim, 64 Haw. 598, 645 P.2d 1330 (1982); State v. Middleton, 294 Or. 427, 657 P.2d 1215 (1983); State v. Haseltine, 120 Wis.2d 92, 352 N.W.2d 673 (1984). Other courts have admitted similar expert testimony on "rape trauma syndrome" to assist the jury in understanding the dynamics of rape; see, e.g., State v. Marks, 231 Kan. 645, 647 P.2d 1292 (1982); State v. Staples, 120 N.H. 278, 415 A.2d 320 (1980). 2 See also State v. Conlogue, 474 A.2d 167 (Me.1984) (expert testimony on "battered child syndrome" and patterns of child abuse within family admissible to impeach credibility of mother's retraction of confession that she had abused her child); State v. Kelly, 97 N.J. 178, 478 A.2d 364 (1984) ("battered woman syndrome" proper subject for expert testimony where issue was whether defendant wife could establish claim of self-defense in prosecution for killing husband).

The foregoing decisions support our conclusion that expert testimony such as that offered by Battinieri does not improperly invade the jury's prerogative. As one commentator has noted:

The argument that such psychological testimony is prejudicial because it bears on the credibility of a witness, and thus invades the province of the jury, is simply wrong. Expert testimony cannot "invade the province of the jury" unless the jury is instructed that it must agree with the expert's assessment.

T. Massaro, Experts, Psychology, Credibility and Rape at 443. Of course, no such instruction was given in this case. Neither did Battinieri expressly comment on the victim's credibility. 3 The fact that the jury, if it believes the expert's testimony, may draw inferences which would tend to bolster the victim's credibility does not make the evidence inadmissible. It is a commonplace fact that the testimony of one witness may tend to corroborate another. Far from being improper, this is normal and is good trial strategy. See Middleton, 294 Or. at 435, 657 P.2d at 1219 ("Much expert testimony will tend to show that another witness either is or is not telling the truth.... This, by itself, will not render evidence inadmissible") 4. In other words, so long as the expert does not render an opinion on the accuracy of the victim's recitation of facts, his or her general testimony on the dynamics of sexual abuse does not prejudice the jury. 5

We also hold that the behavioral and psychological characteristics of child sexual abuse victims are proper subjects for expert testimony. Expert testimony is permitted as an aid to the jury "where the subject beyond the knowledge or experience of the average layman." Commonwealth v. O'Searo, 466 Pa. 224, 352 A.2d 30 (1976). The trial court found that the reactions and behavior of a victim...

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    ...children delay in reporting sexual abuse. (Id. at 69-71.) 3 The trial court allowed this testimony, relying upon Commonwealth v. Baldwin, 348 Pa.Super. 368, 502 A.2d 253 (1985). (Trial court opinion at 15-16.) Baldwin allows expert testimony regarding the behavior patterns of child sexual a......
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