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State v. End-of-Horn, Court of Appeals of Minnesota

No. A12-1995, 2013.

Nature of the case:

First-degree criminal sexual conduct against defendant’s daughter.

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

The defendant was convicted of raping his daughter for nearly a decade. Evidence presented showed that during this period, the victim was also sexually assaulted multiple times by her two uncles who lived in the home for most of her life. The defendant knew that the uncles were sexually abusing his daughter. The victim told her father that her uncles sexually abused her, and the defendant responded that he was aware of the situation, but he did nothing to prevent it from happening again, such as reporting the abuse to the police. The court also admitted evidence of the defendant’s past verbal and physical abuse towards his family. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial judge abused his discretion by admitting evidence that the victim was sexually abused by her uncles and that the defendant committed past incidents of domestic violence. He argued that the probative value was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

Evidence of prior sexual abuse committed by the victim’s uncle and her father’s abusive nature toward the family was admissible to explain the context and circumstances of the victim's home environment and to explain why the victim's disclosure of her father's abuse was delayed. The defendant's unwillingness to report the uncle's abuse to the authorities also corroborated the victim's allegations against her father because his reluctance to report could be seen as preventing the victim from also disclosing his abuse. The evidence has high probative value because it assists the jury in weighing the evidence properly and not concluding that the allegations were not credible because the victim did not report the crimes sooner.

Editorial Comment

This decision is an important example of why judges should err on the side of allowing juries to hear a full explanation of why a victim's report of abuse was not made more promptly. Much of what the court deemed explanatory evidence in this case would also fit within the definition of "grooming," which describes behaviors that offenders employ to manipulate victims into compliance and silence. Prosecutors and advocates would be wise to urge more judges to allow such circumstances of a victim's life to be admitted to explain the context within which abuse occurs, especially intrafamilial abuse, as this type of evidence helps jurors make sense of what otherwise seems implausible, thus not credible. Jurors generally put themselves in the victim's shoes and assume that if the allegations were true, the victim would have reported sooner because THEY would have reported sooner. To persuade jurors not to draw such conclusions, prosecutors literally have to teach jurors to think differently, and to consider the ways that victims are groomed and manipulated to remain silent.

Prosecutors and advocates should be mindful that framing such evidence as "grooming" behavior may lead to an evidentiary challenge in that the defendant may oppose the scientific basis of "grooming" research, and oppose the use of such evidence on the grounds that courts are not settled on the scientific reliability of the underlying research. Hence, in jurisdictions where "grooming" as a term of art has not expressly been ruled scientifically admissible, it may be preferable to simply offer the underlying evidence on its own, without using the term "grooming" and urge the court to allow the evidence to be admitted for the reasons adopted by the court here: to give the jury a full understanding of the circumstances of the victim's life at the time of the abuse and at the time of the disclosure so that a fair judgment can be made as to the nature and timing of the victim's disclosure.

Submitted By: Sheba Varughese -- Law Student

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