State v. Hudnall

Decision Date10 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 22763,22763
Citation293 S.C. 97,359 S.E.2d 59
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. Michael Lee HUDNALL, Appellant. . Heard

Deputy Chief Atty. Elizabeth C. Fullwood, of S.C. Office of Appellate Defense, Columbia, for appellant.

Attorney Gen. T. Travis Medlock, Asst. Attys. Gen. Harold M. Coombs, Jr., and Amie L. Clifford, Columbia, and Sol. Charles M. Condon, Charleston, for respondent.

GREGORY, Justice:

Appellant was convicted of two counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct and sentenced to two concurrent twelve-year terms. We reverse.

The victim in this case is appellant's three-year-old daughter by his former wife, Frances Hudnall. The sexual abuse was reported by Mrs. Hudnall following a bitter domestic dispute that ultimately ended her marriage to appellant. Mrs. Hudnall contacted a domestic relations lawyer regarding the alleged incident but she did not take the child for a medical examination until the Department of Social Services became involved in the case. The medical examination revealed no physical abnormalities to corroborate the allegations.

Because the victim was three years old at the time of trial, her testimony was taken by videotaped deposition. See S.C.Code Ann. § 16-3-1530(G) (1985). Appellant contests his daughter's competency to testify and claims the trial judge erred in qualifying her on the basis of the videotaped competency examination. We agree.

Qualification of a witness is within the trial judge's discretion and his ruling will be reversed only for an abuse thereof. State v. Hardee, 279 S.C. 409, 308 S.E.2d 521 (1983); State v. Green, 267 S.C. 599, 230 S.E.2d 618 (1976). The test to determine a minor's competence to testify is whether the child is aware of right and wrong and understands the probability of punishment for lying. State v. Green, supra.

Upon viewing the videotape of the child's competency examination, we are convinced this child could not be held morally accountable for telling a lie. Her responses to questioning indicate she is incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, truth from falsehood, or reality from make-believe. We find the trial judge abused his discretion in qualifying this witness.

Moreover, the trial judge should have presided during the competency examination of a witness of such tender years rather than determine her competence merely upon a viewing of the videotape. A judge's presence lends a courtroom-like atmosphere to better evaluate the witness's ability to appreciate the consequences of his or her testimony. The unstructured manner in which the examination here was conducted and the poor technical quality of this videotape provided an inadequate substitute upon which to find the witness competent.

Next, appellant contests the admissibility of certain expert testimony. Dr. Schuh, a pediatrician, testified over appellant's objection regarding common characteristics exhibited by child victims of sexual abuse including nightmares, masturbation, and sexual behavior with others. Appellant contests the use of this evidence because it had no probative value to establish an element of the crime.

The evidence in question is similar to the battered woman's syndrome evidence we recently held admissible in State v. Hill, 287 S.C. 398, 339 S.E.2d 121 (1986). This case, however, is distinguishable from Hill because here the evidence was introduced to show whether in fact the crime had occurred. In Hill, the battered woman's syndrome evidence was offered merely to explain the psychological feasibility of the defendant's claim of self-defense in the face of her seemingly inconsistent behavior in remaining with a man who repeatedly abused her. We held evidence of the battered woman's syndrome is relevant to the defendant's state of mind but does not constitute a defense in itself.

Cases from other jurisdictions are consistent with this distinction in admitting or refusing evidence of this type. In People v. Bledsoe, 36 Cal.3d 236, 203 Cal.Rptr. 450, 681 P.2d 291 (1984), the court held expert testimony regarding rape trauma syndrome inadmissible because it was used not to rebut misconceptions about the behavior of a rape victim but to show that the rape had in fact occurred. The court concluded this evidence was not reliable to prove the crime of rape because the indicators of rape trauma syndrome were not devised to determine the truth of the...

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28 cases
  • Hutton v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1993
    ...of PTSD "does not alone prove that sexual abuse has in fact occurred"); Commonwealth v. Dunkle, 602 A.2d at 832-36; State v. Hudnall, 293 S.C. 97, 359 S.E.2d 59, 61-62 (1987); Frenzel v. State, 849 P.2d 741, 749 (Wyo.1993) (CSAAS evidence has not reached the stage of development to make it,......
  • State v. Morgan
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • November 7, 1996
    ...could impact admissibility, depending on the novelty and general acceptance of the expert's underlying methods. 1. State v. Hudnall, 293 S.C. 97, 359 S.E.2d 59 (1987) The admissibility of a particular piece of evidence often turns on the purpose for which it is offered, and expert opinion t......
  • State v. Edward Charles L.
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1990
    ...(admitting); ... People v. Roscoe, 168 Cal.App.3d 1093, 1098-1101, 215 Cal.Rptr. 45, 49-50 (1985) (excluding); State v. Hudnall, 293 S.C. 97, 100, 359 S.E.2d 59, 61-62 (1987) (excluding); People v. Pullins, 145 Mich.App. 414, 420-21, 378 N.W.2d 502, 505 (1985) (excluding); see State v. Tayl......
  • State v. Rimmasch
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • May 17, 1989
    ...(admitting) with People v. Roscoe, 168 Cal.App.3d 1093, 1098-1101, 215 Cal.Rptr. 45, 49-50 (1985) (excluding); State v. Hudnall, 293 S.C. 97, 100, 359 S.E.2d 59, 61-62 (1987) (excluding); People v. Pullins, 145 Mich.App. 414, 420-21, 378 N.W.2d 502, 505 (1985) (excluding); see State v. Tayl......
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