A New Jersey judge has ruled that prosecutors may no longer use the three-decade-old psychological theory commonly used to attempt to prove child rape allegations.
Hudson County Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso on Sept. 1, acting on a remand from the Supreme Court, ruled that judges should not allow prosecutors to admit “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome” (CSAAS) evidence as expert testimony in such cases.
As of Wednesday, it was not immediately clear how many cases could be affected, since CSAAS evidence has been widely accepted for years in hundreds of cases.
Bariso’s ruling must still be reviewed by the Supreme Court, which may choose to adopt or reject his findings.
CSAAS was first illustrated by a psychologist, Dr. Roland Summit, in 1983, as a way to explain how and why children keep hidden experiences of sexual assault. Since then, New Jersey trial judges have allowed prosecutors to use psychologists as expert witnesses to present CSAAS evidence to bolster their cases against accused child rapists.
In the present case, State v. J.L.G., the defense challenged the admission of CSAAS testimony. The Supreme Court, in a March 16 order, said the issue of the credibility of CSAAS evidence needed to be reviewed. Defendant J.L.G. was convicted of sexual assault charges in part based on prosecutor’s use of CSAAS testimony, according to court documents.
The Public Defender’s Office has been using the case to challenge the credibility of CSAAS evidence.
Bariso said, after his review, that CSAAS testimony was, at best, no credibility and should not be admitted in criminal trials.
The evidence of its reliability is “woefully short,” he said. “A wide body of work exists which forcefully suggests no consensus among clinicians regarding CSAAS,” Bariso said. At the very least, he said, there is a sharp division of opinion about the reliability of such evidence.
“At a minimum, the state has failed to meet its burden to prove a general acceptance of CSAAC among clinical and research psychologists,” Bariso said. [T]he expert testimony suggests a level of controversy inconsistent with a general agreement on the validity of CSAAS.”
The Supreme Court has retained jurisdiction over the case, and most lawyers and numerous organizations that participated as involved parties or as amicus, declined to comment because the matter remains in litigations.
Deputy Attorney General Sarah Ross, who argued that CSAAS should be continued to be admissible, issued a brief statement.
“We are disappointed that Judge Bariso failed to recognize the substantial evidence supporting the continued reliability of CSAAS testimony. We believe that the judge’s findings and conclusions are wrong, and we look forward to making our arguments in the New Jersey Supreme Court,” she said.
The Public Defender’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.