Friday, January 21, 2005

Can court admit testimony about child victim's complaints to others?

A fifteen-year-old confided in her cousin that she had been sexually abused by an uncle. Later the teenager also told an aunt and her mother. Can the three relatives testify?

State v. Heidari, 2005 WL 91696 (Wash. App. Div. 1, Jan. 18, 2005) (unpublished), has an interesting discussion of the "fact of the complaint" doctrine.

under the fact of complaint doctrine, the prosecution in a forcible rape case may present evidence of the fact of the victim's complaint in its case in chief. The details and particulars of the complaint are not admissible. The evidence is not hearsay because it is introduced for the purpose of bolstering the victim's credibility and is not substantive evidence of the crime.
Moreover, the testimony may include information about the victim's emotional state:

[The three relatives testified that the alleged victim] was 'really upset,' 'crying,' and 'shaking' at the time she disclosed to them that she had been abused. This is nonsubstantive testimony. Rather, it describes emotional state of the victim which goes to her credibility while making the report. Even if these details . . . were inadmissible under the fact of complaint doctrine, they were admissible under ER 801(d)(1). Under ER 801(d)(1), a statement is not hearsay if '{t}he declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross examination concerning the statement, and the statement is (ii) consistent with the declarant's testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive.'

The court also discusses the prosecutor's closing argument, finding that some remarks based on her own experience rather than the evidence at trial were improper but the defendant was not prejudiced by them.

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