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Name: People v. Julian
Case #: B289613
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 04/29/2019

Inadmissible statistical evidence went beyond the permissible scope of CSAAS evidence. At Julian’s trial for various charges of child molestation, prosecution witness Anthony Urquiza, a clinical psychologist, testified about the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS) theory and statistical data suggesting that false allegations of sexual abuse by children are very infrequent or rare. Julian’s trial counsel did not object to this testimony. Julian was convicted as charged, and he appealed. Held: Reversed and remanded for new trial. It is improper for an expert providing CSAAS testimony to present “predictive conclusions,” such as alleged child abuse victims “should be believed” or “abused children give inconsistent accounts and are credible nonetheless.” (People v. Bowker (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 385, 394.) Where expert opinions on the statistical probability of guilt are admitted, the jury may be distracted from its requisite function of weighing the evidence on the issue of guilt and may rely instead on this irrelevant evidence. Here, the jury had to decide between the credibility of the child’s testimony and defendant’s testimony. But Urquiza’s probability evidence invited jurors to presume the defendant was guilty based on statistical probabilities, and not decide the evidence properly introduced in the case. The introduction of this evidence deprived Julian of his right to a fair trial.

Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the statistical data testimony and for soliciting a detective’s opinion on the child’s credibility. In deciding whether counsel provided ineffective assistance, the court must determine whether counsel’s failure to object fell below the standard required for reasonably competent attorneys and whether counsel’s performance was prejudicial. Here, there was no justification for counsel’s failure to object to Urquiza’s inadmissible and irrelevant statistical evidence. The evidence was highly prejudicial because the case was a credibility dispute between the child and Urquiza. This was a heavily contested case with strong defense evidence. Counsel’s cross-examination gave Urquiza further opportunity to repeatedly reassert his claim that statistics show children do not lie about being abused. Urquiza’s testimony tipped the scale in favor of the prosecution. Such evidence may not be prejudicial where it occurs in a slight passing reference by the expert, but here the jury was bombarded with it. Additionally, on cross-examination, Julian’s counsel asked a detective whether he thought the child was honest with him in making her claims. The detective answered, “Yes, sir.” This solicited inadmissible opinion evidence bolstered the People’s case and undermined Julian’s defense. The errors here were prejudicial under any standard.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: