People v. Bill Williams


AD2 order dated January 10, 2012, modifying judgment of conviction. Decision below: 91 A.D.3d 679, 935 N.Y.S.2d 895. Smith, J., granted leave April 15, 2012.

ISSUE PRESENTED: The admissibility of expert testimony regarding the sexual abuse of children, where the expert testified concerning the typcial conduct of sexual abusers and the consistency of the complainant's behavior with that syndrome. (Assigned counsel: Lynn W.L. Fahey, Appellate Advocates, 2 Rector Street, 10th Floor, NYC 10006.)

Issue before the Court: The admissibility of expert testimony concenring child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome where hypothetical questions posed by the prosecutor consistent with the facts presented by the case were used to reinforce the complainant's testimony.

Held:  The expert's testimony exceeded permissible bounds when the prosecutor tailored the hypothetical quesitons to include facts concerning the abuse that occurred in this particular case.  Such tesitmony went beyond explaining victim behavior and had the prejudicial effect of implying that the expert found the complainant's testimony credible.  However, the error was harmless given the overwhelming nature of the evidence, which included testimony by two victims and medical corroboration.

CAL Observes: The Court has generally been accepting of expert testimony in child sex abuse cases.  See People v. Spicola, 16 N.Y.3d 441 (2011)(upholding the admissibility of child sex abuse accommodation syndrome in general).  This case represents an important step towards placing some common sense restrictions on the latitutde given to expert witnesses to bolster a complainant's account.