Hadden v. State

Citation690 So.2d 573
Decision Date06 February 1997
Docket NumberNos. 87574,87918,s. 87574
Parties, 22 Fla. L. Weekly S55 Timothy Ray HADDEN, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent. Richard BEAULIEU, Petitioner, v. STATE of Florida, Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

Nancy C. Daniels, Public Defender and P. Douglas Brinkmeyer, Assistant Public Defender, Chief, Appellate Intake and Kimberly A. Johnson, Florida State University College of Law, Certified Legal Intern, on behalf of Public Defender's Office, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, and William F. Jung of Black & Jung, P.A., Tampa, for Petitioners.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General; James W. Rogers, Bureau Chief, Criminal Appeals and Carolyn J. Mosley, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Steven J. Guardiano, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Respondent.

WELLS, Justice.

We have for review the decisions of the First District Court of Appeal in Hadden v. State, 670 So.2d 77 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) (en banc), and the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Beaulieu v. State, 671 So.2d 807 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996), certifying the following question to be of great public importance:


Hadden, 670 So.2d at 83; Beaulieu, 671 So.2d at 811. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. We answer the certified question in the affirmative. In reaching this decision, we have been greatly aided by the thorough analysis of this issue in Judge Ervin's dissenting opinion in Hadden, Judge Harris's opinion in Beaulieu, and Judge Griffin's opinion in Toro v. State, 642 So.2d 78 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994). We hold that upon proper objection prior to the introduction of a psychologist's expert testimony offered to prove the alleged victim of sexual abuse exhibits symptoms consistent with one who has been sexually abused, the trial court must find that the psychologist's testimony is admissible under the standard for admissibility of novel scientific evidence announced in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C.Cir.1923), and adopted in Florida.

Further, we hold that at the present time, a psychologist's opinion that a child exhibits symptoms consistent with what has come to be known as "child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome" (CSAAS) 1 has not been proven by a preponderance of scientific evidence to be generally accepted by a majority of experts in psychology. Therefore, such opinions (which we will refer to as "syndrome testimony") may not be used in a criminal prosecution for child abuse. In such testimony, the expert (usually a psychologist by training) testifies on the basis of studies that children who have been sexually abused develop certain symptoms. For example, in Ward v. State, 519 So.2d 1082, 1083 n. 4 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988), the First District explained the three types of symptoms as

sexual behavior (suggestions of sexual activities, e.g., sexual play with toys); behavioral reactions (extreme passiveness or aggressiveness, changes in eating, underachievement); and emotional reactions (sleep disturbances, physical and depressive reactions).

The psychologist then links the type of syndrome symptoms to the child who is the victim in the case being tried.

Accordingly, we approve Hadden in part to the extent that the district court found the issue of the reliability of the expert opinion preserved, and we quash the remainder of the decision. We remand that case with directions that the case be remanded to the trial court for a new trial.

Likewise, we quash Beaulieu and remand for a determination of whether an objection to the admission of the expert's testimony was properly preserved below on the basis of the testimony not passing a Frye test and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Timothy Ray Hadden was charged by amended information with three counts of sexual battery on a person under twelve by vaginal penetration with his finger. During the trial, the State proffered out of the jury's presence opinion testimony from a mental health counselor concerning the symptoms and diagnostic criteria typically associated with sexually abused children. Hadden objected to this testimony on the basis that it lacked scientific reliability and that the expert failed to identify enough diagnostic criteria to give an adequate description of the victim's condition. The State argued that the evidence was admissible under Ward, in which the First District found similar testimony admissible as circumstantial evidence of sexual abuse. In Ward, the district court applied a three pronged analysis to determine the admissibility of this evidence: (1) the expert was qualified to express an opinion; (2) the subject area of child abuse was so developed to permit an expert to express an opinion; and (3) child abuse is not so well understood that a properly qualified expert would know more than a lay person. Id. at 1083. The trial court overruled Hadden's objection and allowed the expert to testify. Hadden was thereafter convicted of the lesser charge of lewd assault.

On appeal, the First District affirmed. Hadden v. State, 670 So.2d 77 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996) (en banc). The court recognized our decision in Flanagan v. State, 625 So.2d 827 (Fla.1993), in which we reaffirmed the proposition that new and novel scientific evidence is inadmissible unless it meets the Frye test. This test requires that the scientific principles undergirding this evidence be found by the trial court to be generally accepted by the relevant members of its particular field. 2 Accordingly, the First District framed the issue in this case as whether the scientific expert testimony admitted below was new and novel so as to require Frye testing before its admission. Hadden at 82.

The district court ultimately concluded that for alternate reasons, the testimony in the case did not need to be subject to a Frye test. First, the district court turned to State v. Townsend, 635 So.2d 949, 958 (Fla.1994) (footnote omitted), in which we cited Ward in stating: "[I]f relevant, a medical expert witness may testify as to whether, in the expert's opinion, the behavior of a child is consistent with the behavior of a child who has been sexually abused." The district court reasoned that in view of this Court citing Ward with approval in Townsend this Court concluded that this type of expert testimony was not new or novel and did not require Frye testing. Hadden, 670 So.2d at 82. The district court distinguished our decision in Flanagan on the basis that Flanagan dealt with pedophile-profile evidence, while this case dealt with syndrome evidence. Hadden at 82. The district court found that the pedophile-profile evidence in Flanagan was condemned because the testimony was intended to and did identify the defendant as the likely perpetrator. Hadden. However, in this case, the district court found that the syndrome evidence at issue was innocuous by comparison because it only demonstrated circumstantially that sexual abuse had occurred at the time and place charged and it did not identify a likely perpetrator. Id. Again, the district court stated that it was led to this conclusion by the favorable cite to Ward in this Court's Townsend decision. Id. Alternatively, the district court found that even if the testimony was considered new or novel, the testimony in this case was couched in terms of the expert's training and experience and was thus opinion testimony not covered by Frye. Hadden at 82-83. Recognizing the potential for conflict, the court then certified the foregoing question. Id. at 83.

Judge Ervin dissented. Judge Ervin wrote that the parties were procedurally barred from claiming the evidence here was pure opinion testimony as defined in Flanagan, and even if properly before the appellate court, the testimony went beyond pure opinion testimony. Hadden at 85 (Ervin, J., dissenting). Further, Judge Ervin concluded from his analysis of the Florida appellate decisions on this issue that no appellate court had addressed the question of whether this type of evidence was admissible under Frye, but rather, the question had only been addressed as a question of relevance. Id. at 85-88. Consequently, this evidence needed to be examined in light of the record, scientific literature, and judicial decisions. Judge Ervin then set out his examination of whether such opinion testimony was generally accepted and concluded that this testimony was not accepted in its particular field as a diagnosis of sexual abuse. Id. at 88-91. Accordingly, Judge Ervin would have held that it was error to admit this testimony as substantive evidence because it bolstered the child's credibility, and he would have reversed the convictions. Id. at 91.

In the consolidated case, Richard Beaulieu was charged with various sex acts with a minor. At trial, the victim testified about being abused by the defendant, and this testimony was corroborated by the victim's own hearsay statements to others. Additionally, a psychologist testified that from his interviews with the child victim and the child's drawings and other tests, the victim fit the child-abuse profile. Beaulieu v. State, 671 So.2d 807 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996). While the Fifth District, like the First District in Hadden, affirmed the convictions on the authority of Townsend, the Fifth District noted that it agreed with Judge Ervin's analysis of the issue in Hadden. Beaulieu, 671 So.2d at 809-10. Judge Harris, in the court's unanimous opinion, expressly agreed that the syndrome testimony would not pass a Frye test. The district court then certified the same question as the Hadden court. Beaulieu at 810.


We likewise agree with Judge Ervin's...

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