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State v. Alfaro, Court of Appeal of Louisiana

128 So.3d 515, La.App. 5 Cir. (2013)

Nature of the case:

Aggravated rape and sexual abuse of a child.

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

The victim approached a resource officer at school, appearing very upset. In the presence of the assistant principal, the victim disclosed escalating sexual abuse and rapes by her stepfather that started when she was just eight years old. Police and a DCFS worker were brought to the school and the victim repeated the same allegations to them. The police department also obtained the defendant’s cell phone, which contained explicit pictures that an expert confirmed were not downloaded or sent to the defendant.

The victim was interviewed on videotape at the Children’s Advocacy Center one week later and described in detail each act of rape/sexual battery perpetrated by her stepfather. However, when brought to hospital for a forensic medical examination, the victim adamantly objected, claimed to be lying about the abuse and refused to cooperate with the prosecution. At trial, the victim testified that she fabricated the story out of anger for the defendant’s harsh punishment. Despite her recantation, the jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions because the victim testified the abuse did not happen, and there was no medical evidence to support allegations. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

A conviction will stand if the court finds that any rational jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The evidence was sufficient in this case because an expert witness testified about the nature of recantations and explained to the jury that “Most children do not report abuse for one to five years after the abuse" and that "four to thirty percent of children recant reports of abuse."In sixty to ninety percent of the cases" where victims recant, the abuse is confirmed. The expert explained that children recant for a variety of reasons, including fear and threats and because of “the consequences or reactions of the people around them." Based on this evidence combined with the victim's CAC interview and photographic evidence from the defendant's phone, there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant despite the victim's recantation and testimony at trial that the abuse did not happen.

Editorial Comment

This case demonstrates the importance of prosecutors moving ahead with charges even after a victim recants, and making sure an expert witness is available to explain the significance of recantations. Recantations without expert testimony are difficult to assess objectively, and jurors who don't understand why recantations are common may unfairly discount the allegations. In certain circumstances, a recantation may actually help prove allegations because jurors might conclude that only the most terrified and truly victimized children would recant.

Submitted By: Sheba Varughese -- Law Student

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