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United States v. Griffith.

No. 22-7005. 4/18/2023. E.D.Okla. Judge Bacharach. Sexual Abuse of a Minor—Sexual Abuse of an Adult by Non-Fatal Threat—Expert Witness Testimony on Credibility—Fed. R. Evid. 803(4).

April 18, 2023

Griffith lived with his wife and her daughter Amanda for almost 18 years. Amanda alleged that Griffith had sexually assaulted her when she was a minor. Griffith admitted that he’d had sex with Amanda and fathered her child, but he denied having sex with Amanda until she was over 18. Griffith was charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a minor under 12, sexual abuse of a minor under 16, and sexual abuse of an adult by a non-fatal threat. At trial, both parties focused on Amanda’s credibility because she and Griffith had been the only eyewitnesses. Griffith did not testify, but two expert witnesses testified about his credibility. Griffith defended his actions based primarily on arguments that Amanda had frequently manipulated others by making false sexual abuse allegations. Griffith was convicted on all charges.

On appeal, Griffith argued that the district court erred by allowing expert witness testimony about his credibility. Here, the prosecution relied mainly on Amanda’s account of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse, but it also presented statements that Griffith had made to Sgt. Harris and Special Agent Girod in which he denied some of the allegations. After playing videotapes of these denials, Sgt. Harris testified that he hadn’t believed Griffith, and Special Agent Girod testified that he had reached the “right place” after Griffith began changing his story. In opining on credibility, Sgt. Harris and Special Agent Girod relied on Griffith’s actions and statements that the jurors could see for themselves. Further, the focus on Amanda’s credibility softened any impact that would otherwise have existed from the testimony on Griffith’s credibility, and Griffith failed to show how the expert opinion on his honesty affected Amanda’s credibility. In addition, the prosecution’s closing arguments did not mention the opinion testimony about Griffith’s credibility, which substantially reduces the likelihood of prejudice; and the jury could independently assess the demeanor and inconsistencies underlying the opinion testimony. Therefore, Griffith failed to show a reasonable probability of a different result without the disputed opinion testimony, and the resulting impact from the expert testimony was not enough to substantially affect the jury’s finding of guilt. Because Griffith has not shown that the testimony had an effect on a substantial right, the district court did not plainly err.

Griffith also argued that the district court should not have let a certified sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) testify that Amanda identified Griffith as the sexual assault perpetrator during her medical examination. The district court allowed this testimony under Fed. R. Evid. 803(4), which creates a hearsay exception for statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment. A Tenth Circuit panel has held that a victim’s statements to a medical provider identifying an abuser would trigger the Rule 803(4) hearsay exception, and one panel cannot overrule another panel’s precedential opinion. Accordingly, Amanda’s out-of-court statement to the SANE was admissible.

The convictions were affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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