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State v. Dejesus

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

November 12, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
OSVALDO DEJESUS

          Argued September 5, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with two counts each of the crimes of sexual assault in the first degree and sexual assault in the fourth degree, and with four counts of the crime of risk of injury to a child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven and tried to the jury before Alander, J.; verdict and judgment of guilty of two counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree and four counts of risk of injury to a child, from which the defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Norman A. Pattis, for the appellant (defendant).

          Laurie N. Feldman, special deputy assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Patrick Griffin, state's attorney, and Maxine Wilensky, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Bright, Js.

          OPINION

          BRIGHT, J.

         The defendant, Osvaldo DeJesus, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, of four counts of risk of injury to a child in violation of General Statutes § 53-21 (a) (2), and two counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-73a (a) (1) (A).[1] On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court (1) improperly admitted into evidence expert testimony that amounted to impermissible bolstering of the victim's credibility and (2) erred in concluding, during a pretrial hearing, that the victim was not an adverse party, thereby precluding defense counsel from asking the victim leading questions on direct examination. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, which the jury reasonably could have found, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The defendant and the victim's mother, M, [2] were in a relationship when, in 2003 or 2004, the defendant moved into the apartment M shared with her two daughters, D and the victim. At the time, the victim was two or three years old. Thereafter, the defendant, M, and her daughters moved to a condominium. In 2005, M gave birth to the defendant's son, S, and the five of them shared the condominium.

         In 2008, when the victim was eight years old, the defendant began a pattern of sexually assaulting her in the bedroom the victim shared with D. Over the course of the next two years, the defendant sexually abused the victim both in and out of the home. When the victim was ten years old, she began menstruating, prompting the defendant to stop the sexual abuse. In 2013, the defendant and M ended their relationship and, at M's insistence, the defendant moved out of the condominium. Because S continued to live with M, the defendant would stop by the condominium unannounced and would stay there until S went to sleep. The victim withheld disclosure of the abuses she had suffered until she was thirteen years old, at which point she confided in her cousin, C. Unable to articulate verbally what had happened, the victim disclosed the news to C by way of a text message with the expectation that C would keep it a secret. Several days later, the victim's aunt discovered the text message and relayed the information to M. That night, M took the victim to the police station where she gave videotaped and written statements concerning the defendant's sexual abuse. Three days later, the victim went to the child sexual abuse clinic at Yale New Haven Hospital where she had a videotaped forensic interview with Rebecha Sullivan, a licensed clinical social worker.

         On the basis of the victim's complaint, the defendant was charged with two counts of sexual assault in the first degree, four counts of risk of injury to a child, and two counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of all four counts of risk of injury to a child and both counts of sexual assault in the fourth degree. He was acquitted of the remaining charges. See footnote 1 of this opinion. The court imposed a total effective sentence of thirty-two years of incarceration, execution suspended after twenty years, with fifteen years of probation and ten years of sex offender registration. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         I

         The defendant claims for the first time on appeal that the trial court improperly admitted into evidence expert testimony regarding how child victims of sexual abuse behave and how they disclose their abuse. More specifically, the defendant argues that the court erred by admitting the testimony of Donna Meyer, the state's expert in forensic interviewing, despite the fact that she had never examined the victim. The defendant concedes that he did not preserve this claim at trial, arguing instead that this court should reverse the judgment of conviction under the plain error doctrine. In the alternative, the defendant asks that we exercise our supervisory authority over the administration of justice to preclude the admission of testimony from forensic interviewers on the characteristics of children who disclose sexual abuse and the different manners in which they disclose such abuse. According to the defendant, such evidence is irrelevant to whether a particular complainant is telling the truth, is unduly prejudicial because it suggests that all children who disclose sexual abuse were, in fact, abused, and constitutes improper ‘‘vouching'' for the complainant's credibility. Because our Supreme Court has made clear that such testimony is admissible, we reject the defendant's arguments.

         The following additional facts are relevant to our resolution of the defendant's claim. The state called Meyer as an expert witness in forensic interviewing to discuss generally forensic interviewing and the dynamics of child sexual abuse victims. Meyer testified at length as to what forensic interviews entail, [3] the different types of disclosures, [4] what may cause a delayed disclosure, [5] and the effects domestic violence in the home has on child sexual assault victims.[6] She also discussed how a victim's relationship with his or her abuser can impact the delay in disclosure, stating that β€˜β€˜the closer the relationship, the longer the delay in general, that's what research has shown.'' Meyer went on to discuss the effect that sexual abuse has on a victim's sleep, testifying that β€˜β€˜[e]very child is unique, so it depends on a lot of different things, but often times children who have been sexually abused will experience nightmares, some children may experience bed wetting, other children may-may experience inability to fall ...


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