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Name: People v. Flores (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 438
Case #: D083310
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 04/15/2024
Summary

Trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing evidence of victim’s disclosure of sexual abuse ten years after the abuse occurred under the “fresh complaint” doctrine. Flores was found guilty of four counts of sexually abusing two sisters between 2006 and 2008 when the victims were between the ages of four and seven years old. About ten years after the abuse, one of the victims (B.C.) disclosed the abuse to her high school friends after they showed concern about her demeanor. At trial, the jury was instructed that it could consider B.C.’s statements to her friends both to evaluate her testimony and as evidence that the information in those earlier statements was true. (See CALCRIM No. 318.) Flores was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison (and denied conduct credits). He appealed. Held: Remanded for recalculation of presentence conduct credits but otherwise affirmed. Surveying the interpretation of the fresh complaint doctrine in numerous other jurisdictions, the court concluded that a child victim’s delay in disclosing sexual assault generally goes to the weight of the disclosure, not its admissibility. When offered for a limited nonhearsay purpose, a victim’s disclosure should not be excluded solely because it is not “fresh” enough. Current research and jurisprudence recognize that it is not inherently “natural” for victims to disclose their abuse immediately, or in many cases, at all. It is the fact-finder’s proper province to consider timeliness in evaluating what weight to accord otherwise relevant disclosure evidence. [Editor’s Note: The court urged California courts to dispense with the “fresh complaint” label and encouraged them instead to refer to this evidentiary rule as the “prior disclosure” doctrine.]

Admission of Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS) expert testimony was proper, despite the victims being adults at the time of trial testimony, because the defense placed victims’ credibility at issue in ways related to CSAAS testimony. In addition to fresh complaint evidence, evidence was presented by a CSAAS expertThe jury was instructed that the expert testimony was not evidence that defendant committed the crimes charged against him but rather, that jurors could consider the evidence only in deciding whether or not the victims’ conduct was not inconsistent with the conduct of someone who had been molested, and in evaluating the believability of their testimony. (CALCRIM No. 1193.) When a victim’s credibility is placed at issue due to paradoxical behavior, including a delay in reporting, CSAAS testimony is admissible to disabuse a jury of misconceptions about how a child reacts to molestation. Flores argued that CSAAS becomes irrelevant or inapplicable when individuals victimized as children testify as adults. However, CSAAS testimony was relevant in this case because the defense put the victims’ credibility at issue in ways directly related to the CSAAS expert’s testimony, such as asking both victims why they did not report the alleged abuse to their parents or others, commenting on the victims’ delay in reporting the abuse, arguing that the victims were not credible because they showed affection towards Flores, and questioning why they had trouble remembering certain details. In these ways, the defense placed the victims’ credibility at issue using precisely the kind of “paradoxical” behaviors, including delayed reporting, helplessness, and memory repression, that CSAAS testimony is admissible to address.