STATE v. ANTHONY FAVOCCIA, SC 18559
Judicial District of Fairfield
Criminal; Whether the Trial Court Abused its Discretion in Admitting into Evidence Statements of an Expert Witness That Allegedly Bolstered the Credibility of the Victim and, if so, Whether the Error was Harmful. The defendant was convicted of two counts of risk of injury to a child in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of the victim. He appealed from his convictions to the Appellate Court, claiming that the trial court improperly permitted the state to offer expert testimony from a psychologist that allegedly bolstered the victim's credibility. In particular, the defendant focused on four colloquies between the prosecutor and the psychologist in which the psychologist allegedly conveyed to the jury her opinion that the victim had suffered sexual abuse. Each of the four colloquies began with a discussion of a general behavioral characteristic of sexually abused children. In that preliminary testimony, the psychologist explained that victims of sexual abuse may (1) delay their disclosure of the abuse, (2) accidentally make such a disclosure, (3) remain polite and respectful toward the perpetrator as a coping mechanism and (4) attempt to make themselves unattractive to the perpetrator as a coping mechanism. The psychologist then went beyond a general discussion of these four characteristics of sexual abuse victims and offered opinions, based on her review of a videotaped forensic interview and other documentation, as to whether the victim in this case had in fact exhibited each of the four characteristics. The Appellate Court (119 Conn. App. 1) found that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the challenged statements into evidence. It stated that although it was not improper for the psychologist to testify as to certain general behavioral characteristics of sexually abused children, when the psychologist went beyond a general discussion of such characteristics and offered opinions as to whether the victim displayed each of the characteristics, her testimony endorsed the victim's credibility and functioned as an opinion that the victim's claims were truthful. The Appellate Court also concluded that the admission of the improper statements constituted harmful error. It indicated that because the state neither introduced physical or medical evidence of abuse, nor presented any eyewitness testimony other than that of the victim, the case rested primarily on the victim's credibility and, thus, was not particularly strong. It therefore stated that because there was ample evidence of the psychologist's expert qualifications at the outset of her testimony, it was probable that the jury would rely on her indirect assertions that the victim was credible. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the psychologist's statements into evidence, and, if so, whether the error was harmful.