A psychology expert witness specializing in questioning child victims of sexual assault testified on behalf of a California defendant, offering a critical analysis of police investigation and interrogation techniques when interacting with young sex abuse accusers. The testimony represents a growing trend of use of expert witnesses to present psychological concepts designed to assist jurors make legal decisions.
Psychologist Called as Expert Witness in Child Sexual Abuse Trial
Dr. Bradley McAuliff, a professor of psychology at CSU Northridge, was called by defendant Clinton Dean Grosse to cast doubt on the sexual abuse allegations against him. Grosse is on trial in Butte County, California for allegedly committing felony continuous sexual child abuse, a charge that requires prosecutors demonstrate the defendant committed three or more sexual acts against a child under the age of 14 over a period of at least three months.
Grosse’s accuser, now in her teens, testified earlier in the trial that he forced her to engage in oral sex and masturbation, and rubbed his genitals on her clothing. The alleged victim was in high school when she reported the incident, which she claimed happened while she was in middle school. Grosse allegedly performed these acts at his residence, forcing the victim to engage in several sexual acts in violation of the law. When she was in high school, the girl wrote down her accusations in a letter to her mother before reporting the incident to police.
Dr. McAuliff was tasked with analyzing the process employed by police to question the young accuser, and help suggest reasonable doubt by pointing out aspects of the investigation that gave opportunity for the alleged victim to misremember the facts.
Psychology Expert Analyzes Police Interview Techniques of Child Accuser
In his testimony, Dr. McAuliff established that, although he did not interview the child accuser directly, he reviewed the police reports and detailed transcripts of the interviews in order to get a clear understanding of what transpired during the Grosse investigation. In response to questioning from the defense attorney, McAuliff testified that his research indicates direct or leading questions from a police interviewer can lead a child to simply agree with whatever they are asked, and struggle to deny false or inaccurate statements.
Relevant to the Grosse case, Dr. McAuliff pointed out that police investigators asked direct questions from the girl’s letter to her mother, including potentially false facts it contained. With each interviewer using the letter, the story the police wanted to tell could have been easily developed through direct and suggestive questioning. According to McAuliff, the proper way for police to interview a child accuser is to act as if the officers do not know the story, and rely on the child’s open ended narrative to build the case. During the investigation into Grosse’s alleged sexual crimes, police often asked direct questions that the girl agreed to, which could have resulted in exaggerated or false statements.
Dr. McAuliff acknowledged that the police did take positive action by encouraging the alleged victim to correct them should statements be false, but overall he was critical of the approach police questioners took throughout the investigation. McAuliff was also sure to point out that just because an interviewer improperly questions a child, it does not mean the child gave a false answer. The faulty police techniques simply made the possibility of false information more likely, which Grosse’s defense team hopes will create sufficient reasonable doubt to acquit.