Yount v. State, No. 597

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before WILNER, C.J., MOYLAN, J., and JAMES S. GETTY; MOYLAN
Citation99 Md.App. 207,636 A.2d 50
PartiesClarence Alroy YOUNT v. STATE of Maryland. ,
Docket NumberNo. 597
Decision Date01 September 1993

Page 207

99 Md.App. 207
636 A.2d 50
Clarence Alroy YOUNT
v.
STATE of Maryland.
No. 597, Sept. Term, 1993.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
Jan. 27, 1994.

[636 A.2d 51]

Page 209

Debra A. Saltz, Student Atty. (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender and Claudia A. Cortese, Asst. Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Thomas K. Clancy, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Kreg Paul Greer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, and Walter B. Dorsey, State's Atty. for St. Mary's County of Leonardtown, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before WILNER, C.J., MOYLAN, J., and JAMES S. GETTY, Judge (retired) Specially Assigned.

MOYLAN, Judge.

The appellant, Clarence Alroy Yount, was convicted by a St. Mary's County jury, presided over by Judge John Hanson Briscoe, of a third-degree sexual offense. On this appeal, he raises the single contention that Judge Briscoe erroneously permitted the prosecution's expert witness to testify on an allegedly ultimate jury issue, to wit, on a matter relating to the credibility of the child abuse victim.

The child abuse that constituted the third-degree sexual offense was committed by the appellant on his eight-year-old daughter sometime during the summer of 1988. It was only when the eight-year-old victim revealed the abusive incident to a friend at school that school authorities, in turn, learned about it and that the investigation in this case began.

One month after reporting the incident, however, the young victim recanted her allegations at an interview with a juvenile court master and several attorneys. She told the master and the others that "her father had never done anything to her." She insisted that she had made up the story because her cousin Carolyn and her Aunt Dorothy had threatened to hurt her. Subsequently, however, the victim recanted her recantation. She explained that she had denied the charges in front

Page 210

of the juvenile master and the attorneys in order to protect her father "from the police."

The eight-year-old victim was the only witness called during the prosecution's case in chief. Her credibility was obviously critical for without reliance on her testimony there was no case. At one point during her cross-examination, the victim denied "ever telling anyone either on that day in chambers or at some other time [that] she made up the story" because of being threatened by her aunt or cousin. When asked why the offense had not been reported for about seven months, the victim replied "I don't know." Her vacillation was self-evidently the critical factor in any assessment of her credibility.

The appellant, for his part, testified that all of his daughter's allegations were false. He testified further that it was two days after the alleged incident was reported when he informed "Aunt Dorothy" that she was no longer welcome to live with the family, thereby supplying a motive for the very bringing of the charges.

In rebuttal, the State called Catherine Long Meyers, a child therapist with a master's degree in psychology and approximately 150 hours of training in child sexual abuse. Ms. Meyers also holds a certification in Maryland as a "professional counsellor" and a national certification as a "clinical mental health counsellor." After a thorough examination of her credentials and experience, Ms. Meyers was qualified as an expert in the area of child sexual abuse, albeit over the objection of the appellant.

Ms. Meyers testified that, as a general phenomenon, child sexual abuse victims frequently recant their initial reports of abuse. She testified, moreover, that children who know their abusers are more likely to delay in making the initial disclosure than are children[636 A.2d 52] who are abused by strangers. The prosecutor then posed for Ms. Meyers the hypothetical scenario of a child between the age of 8 and 10 who has reported abuse by a family member, has been placed in "the system," is still exposed to family members, and has shortly thereafter recanted the initial report of abuse. Ms. Meyers was asked

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whether the child's recantation would be abnormal under those circumstances. She replied that such recantation was both normal and very common. She explained that it was also very common for a child then to "take back" or retract the recantation once the child's support systems were in place.

Under the well established Maryland common law of evidence governing expert testimony, it was within the discretion of Judge Briscoe to admit the testimony of Ms. Meyers in this case. In Simmons v. State, 313 Md. 33, 41, 542 A.2d 1258 (1988), the Court of Appeals discussed the admissibility of expert testimony generally:

"A determination as to the admissibility of expert testimony is based on several findings. First, the trial court must determine whether the evidence to be presented is a proper subject for expert testimony. The standard for relevance under Maryland common law is whether the jury will receive appreciable help from the expert testimony in resolving issues presented in the case. See State v. Allewalt, 308 Md. 89, 101, 517 A.2d 741, 747 (1986); Consolidated Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Ball, 263 Md. 328, 338, 283 A.2d 154, 159 (1971)."

Lynn McLain, Maryland Evidence, § 702.1, at 212-213 (1987), speaks to the same effect:

"Under modern Maryland case law, the standard for the admissibility of expert evidence is whether the finder of fact can receive appreciable help from an expert on the subject matter. No longer need the subject matter be so far 'beyond the ken of laymen' that the finder of fact could not have any understanding of the particular issue without expert help." (footnotes omitted).

The expert testimony of Ms. Meyers clearly passed that "helpfulness" test of admissibility. The psychological phenomenon of wavering or vacillating on the part of a sexual child abuse victim--first accusing, then recanting, then renewing the accusation--is something that is not part of the common currency of lay experience. Under the circumstances, knowledge

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of such a phenomenon would be of appreciable help to the fact finder in a case such as this.

Indeed, the acid test for whether expert testimony would be of appreciable help to a fact finder is easy to apply. We simply ask ourselves whether we three members of a judicial appellate panel would, were we fact-finding jurors, have found the testimony helpful. The answer is clearly, "Yes." The testimony would have provided a professionally sound explanation for what might otherwise have seemed to us an unsettling inconstancy of testimonial purpose on the part of the eight-year-old alleged victim. Without expert guidance from a discipline not our own, we might easily have fallen into the untutored layman's error of dismissing as noncredible testimony that, in the arcane context of sexual child abuse, should not be so readily dismissed. Expert testimony in this area would be of appreciable help.

Simmons v. State went on, 313 Md. at 41, 542 A.2d 1258, to discuss the second criterion of admissibility:

"Before expert testimony is admitted the court must also determine whether the proposed expert is qualified to testify by virtue of education and experience. See Crews v. Director, 245 Md. 174, 179, 225 A.2d 436, 439 (1967) (a psychiatrist not licensed to practice medicine in Maryland was permitted, in light of the psychiatrist's extensive professional training and experience, to opine that the appellant was a defective delinquent); Casualty Ins. Co. v. Messenger, 181 Md. 295, 298-99, 29 A.2d 653, 655 (1943)."

McLain, Maryland Evidence, § 702.2, at 221-222 (1987), is also helpful on the subject of a particular expert's qualifications.

"If the court determines that scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge is the proper subject of expert testimony, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education[636 A.2d 53] may testify on that subject, unless exempted by statute from testifying. The expert's training or experience need not have been formal. But it must be such that the witness' knowledge of the

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14 practice notes
  • Hutton v. State, No. 151
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 September 1993
    ...case in any court or in any administrative hearing. The credibility of a witness, however, is not an ultimate issue. See Yount v. State, 99 Md.App. 207, 215, 636 A.2d 50, 51, cert. denied, 335 Md. 82, 642 A.2d 193 (1994) ("A witness's credibility cannot directly either convict or acqui......
  • Walter v. State, No. 814, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 2 November 2018
    ...of the factors that may go into delayed reporting."In our judgment, this issue is controlled by the decision in Yount v. State , 99 Md. App. 207, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). In that case the trial court allowed expert testimony from a therapist who had a master's degree in psychology, approxim......
  • Sewell v. State, No. 2183, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 November 2018
    ...three members of a judicial appellate panel would, were we fact-finding jurors, have found the testimony helpful." Yount v. State , 99 Md. App. 207, 212, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). The outcome turns on whether the testimony would be useful to the jury, not "whether the trier of fact coul......
  • Lawson v. State, No. 1914
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 10 January 2005
    ...and others, "as a general phenomenon, child abuse victims frequently recant their initial reports of abuse." Yount v. State, 99 Md.App. 207, 210, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). Indeed, it has been observed that a child's out-of-court statements may "be more reliable than the child's tes......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Hutton v. State, No. 151
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 1 September 1993
    ...case in any court or in any administrative hearing. The credibility of a witness, however, is not an ultimate issue. See Yount v. State, 99 Md.App. 207, 215, 636 A.2d 50, 51, cert. denied, 335 Md. 82, 642 A.2d 193 (1994) ("A witness's credibility cannot directly either convict or acquit. Th......
  • Walter v. State, No. 814, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 2 November 2018
    ...aware of the factors that may go into delayed reporting."In our judgment, this issue is controlled by the decision in Yount v. State , 99 Md. App. 207, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). In that case the trial court allowed expert testimony from a therapist who had a master's degree in psychology, approxi......
  • Sewell v. State, No. 2183, Sept. Term, 2016
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 November 2018
    ...we three members of a judicial appellate panel would, were we fact-finding jurors, have found the testimony helpful." Yount v. State , 99 Md. App. 207, 212, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). The outcome turns on whether the testimony would be useful to the jury, not "whether the trier of fact could possi......
  • Lawson v. State, No. 1914
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 10 January 2005
    ...that reason and others, "as a general phenomenon, child abuse victims frequently recant their initial reports of abuse." Yount v. State, 99 Md.App. 207, 210, 636 A.2d 50 (1994). Indeed, it has been observed that a child's out-of-court statements may "be more reliable than the child's testim......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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