State v. Robins

State v. Robins, 2013 MT 71 (March 20, 2013) (5-0) (McGrath, C.J.)

Issue: Whether the district court abused its discretion by allowing the state to present expert testimony regarding child sexual abuse victims.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Robins’ stepdaughter, CG, testified that Robins abused her over a six-month period in 2010, when she was 13-14 years old. She testified that it made her feel loved and beautiful, and that Robins treated her better than her siblings after the abuse began. When CG was in eighth grade, she took a sex education class at school and realized that the things Robins did to her were wrong. She wrote a note to him and put it in his pillowcase. CG’s mother found the note. Robins was charged with incest, two counts of attempted sexual intercourse without consent, and sexual assault. The state filed a notice that a child sex abuse expert, Wendy Dutton, would testify at trial. Robins moved in limine to preclude the testimony, arguing the danger of unfair prejudice outweighed any probative value. The court allowed Dutton to testify but gave a cautionary instruction that her testimony could not be used as substantive evidence or as her opinion that Robins had committed the alleged crimes. Dutton testified about the process of victimization, how victims disclose abuse, children’s typical reactions to abuse, the most common situations when children make false allegations, and the proper protocol for conducting a forensic interview with a child. She did not discuss Robins’ case or offer any opinion about whether CG had been abused.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The jury convicted Robins of all four charges, but the district court later dismissed one count of attempted sexual intercourse without consent because the state had failed to establish jurisdiction for that charge. The court sentenced Robins to 30 years in Montana State Prison for each of the three convictions, to run consecutively. Robins appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: Robins argues that Dutton’s testimony invaded the jury’s obligation to assess CG’s credibility. Credibility is solely the province of the jury; experts are not allowed to testify that a witness has or has not told the truth unless they are opining about a very young accuser. That exception is not applicable here. Dutton did not vouch for CG or opine on her credibility. The sole issue is whether Dutton’s testimony was admissible under M.R. Evid. 702. The Court has consistently allowed expert testimony to explain the complexities of child sexual abuse. Additionally, the district court gave a cautionary instruction. Dutton’s testimony was properly allowed.