What Is “Grooming” Testimony, and How Does It Affect Sex Crimes Cases?

November 21st, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Sex Crime

In sex crimes cases, prosecutors often seek to introduce evidence of “grooming.” In broad terms, grooming refers to actions that sexual abusers take to gain the trust of their victims. And while grooming is not generally considered a complex topic, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has said prosecutors may rely on testimony from expert witnesses to help a jury “understand” how grooming behaviors work.

Houston Court Finds Nothing Improper with Police Investigator’s “Expert” Testimony

A recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Krause v. State provides an example of this. In this case, prosecutors charged the defendant with sexually abusing a nine-year-old child. The accuser testified that the defendant “gave her special attention and bought her lots of gifts.” At the time, the defendant lives with the accuser while dating her mother. The accuser’s siblings confirmed the defendant “bought more gifts for [the accuser] than he did” for them, and that he “paid more attention” to her than the other children.

Prosecutors also called a Gainesville Police Department investigator as an expert witness. The investigator specifically testified about the “topic of grooming in sexual assault cases.” The investigator essentially explained the concept of grooming and how he “saw it in this case.”

The defense objected to the investigator’s testimony. The trial judge then questioned the investigator about his qualifications in this subject. The judge overruled the objection and allowed the jury to hear the testimony.

The jury initially told the judge it was deadlocked. This prompted the judge to issue what is known as an Allen charge. This is an instruction, based on an 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision, that basically tells a jury to keep deliberating, and that if a majority of jurors favor conviction, then the jurors in the minority should “reconsider” whether or not reasonable doubt exists.

Following the Allen charge, the jury found the defendant guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child and assessed a sentence of 25 years in prison.

On appeal, the defendant raised several arguments, including the propriety of the Allen charge and the trial judge’s decision to admit the expert testimony. The First District held the defendant’s arguments lacked merit and affirmed his conviction and sentence.

With respect to the investigator’s testimony, the First District noted that “grooming” was a “legitimate subject of expert testimony,” and the trial court acted within its discretion to accept the witness as qualified based on his tenure as a police officer with “extensive training in child abuse investigations.” And while this testimony was “not directly relevant to the elements of the charged offense,” it still provided the jury with “background information that helped [it] understand that abusers can groom children for sexual abuse by getting the child to trust and love them.”

As for the Allen charge, the First District said the judge issued the proper instruction. While an Allen charge should not tell jurors favoring acquittal to “distrust” their own judgment in favor of a majority favoring conviction, here the judge clearly stated that the verdict “must be the verdict of each individual juror and not mere acquiescence in the conclusion of other jurors.”

Speak with a Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

When facing sex crimes charges, prosecutors will use every legal tool at their disposal to secure a conviction. That is why if you are the one on trial, you need advice and assistance from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City to speak with a lawyer today. Or call 281-280-0100.

 

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