Statue of justice

Credibility of Alcohol Expert in Stanford Sexual Assault Case Questioned

Written on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 by Kimberly DelMonico
Filed under: In the News

Former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

The Case Against Turner

The incident occurred on January 18, 2015, outside of a Kappa Alpha fraternity party. Two bicyclists passing by found Turner on top of an unconscious and partially disrobed woman. The bicyclists said that when they confronted Turner, he backed away and tried to free himself when they tried to detain him. The woman’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was estimated at three times the legal driving limit and she did not wake up for at least three hours after the incident. Turner was arrested and charged with five felony counts, later reduced to three. He also withdrew from Stanford.

Throughout his trial, Turner maintained his innocence. He testified that the woman, a 23-year-old who did not attend Stanford, consented to all sexual activity.

However, the woman testified that she had no recollection of the event. She says that the last thing she remembers is drinking and dancing with her younger sister at the fraternity party. She does not remember meeting Turner or how she woke up in the Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where she was told that she may have been a victim of sexual assault. The woman did testify that she was “extremely intoxicated” and that she had blacked out from drinking on four or five previous occasions. She admitted to drinking about four shots of whisky before the party and then drinking vodka at the party.

Defense Expert’s Credibility Called Into Question

Defense attorney Mike Armstrong argued that while the woman may not remember the events, she may still have given her consent at the time. Armstrong retained expert witness Kim Fromme to give testimony on the effects of alcohol and blackouts.

Kim Fromme is a clinical psychology professor at the University of Texas in Austin and the Director of the Studies on Alcohol, Health, and Risky Activities. Her research focuses on prevention of alcohol abuse and risk-taking behaviors in young adults. Fromme described herself as an unbiased expert.

Fromme testified that a person who has been drinking may appear normal, but actually be experiencing a blackout, which she defined as a period of amnesia. The person is fully conscious and capable of making short-term decisions, such as driving a car or having sex, but not able to store long-term memories.

Under cross-examination, the prosecutor Aleleh Kiancerci asked Fromme whether she was biased. Kiancerci introduced several of Fromme’s emails to Armstrong into evidence. In Fromme’s emails, she expressed hope for an acquittal of “our client” and asked whether it was prudent to turn over communications between herself and defense attorney Armstrong.

Kiancerci’s attempts to assail Fromme’s credibility seemed to be effective. After Fromme’s testimony, the jury exercised its privilege to question witnesses and asked whether Fromme had ever seen a drunk person experiencing a blackout who appeared normal. Fromme responded that she had in her personal life, but not in the lab.

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.