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And Then There Was One: A Recent Minnesota Supreme Court Decision Has Left Pennsylvania as the Only State That Disallows Expert Testimony to Explain Victim Behavior, Issue #1

NCJ Number
Christopher Mallios, J.D.
Date Published
August 2011
3 pages
This issue reviews the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in State v. Obeta (March 24, 2011), which held that the prosecution can admit expert testimony in order to explain why some sexual assault victims in a given case may have delayed reporting the sexual assault and/or may lack physical injuries from the assault.
In a pretrial hearing, the trial court denied the prosecution's motion to admit expert testimony from the director of a victim services program and a psychology professor, who testified at the pretrial hearing about typical behavior of victims during and after sexual assault, explaining that it is uncommon for victims to fight back aggressively during rape, that most victims receive no injuries, and that the most common injuries are bruising on the extremities from being held down. They also explained that vaginal injuries are uncommon and that victims often delay reporting sexual assault. The trial court subsequently denied the motion to admit this testimony, and the prosecution filed an interlocutory pretrial appeal. While the trial court's decision was on appeal to the intermediate appellate court, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted the State's petition for accelerated review and took jurisdiction over the case. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed with prosecutors that expert testimony regarding common victim behaviors is admissible in sexual assault cases. As part of its argument, the State maintained that Minnesota law should be in line with most other States, which have rejected a per se rule that prohibits the admission of expert testimony that explains common victim behaviors. This paper notes that the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in this case leaves Pennsylvania as the only State that disallows expert testimony to explain victim behavior.