Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Induction & Reference Classes in a Criminal Trial in Texas

In Schutz v. Texas, 957 S.W.2d 52 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997) accused was convicted of aggravated sexual assault on his six year old daughter. At his trial an expert for the prosecution was allowed to testify that the child's allegations were not the result of manipulation or fantasy. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the state's highest appellate court in criminal cases) held that the expert's testimony was equivalent to prohibited testimony about the truthfulness of the child witness. The Court also said that "evidence that a person's allegations are the result of manipulation or fantasy is inadmissible. Such evidence never assists the jury because the jury is just as capable as the expert of drawing the conclusions involved." In note 10 of its opinion the Court of Criminal Appeals responded to a critique of this point by Judge Womack in his concurring opinion:
Judge Womack contends that our exclusion of expert conclusions concerning the truthfulness of allegations is illogical. He isolates three different types of statements that an expert might make: (1) children who are fantasizing or being manipulated behave in certain ways, (2) this child did not behave in those ways, and (3) this child was not fantasizing or being manipulated. He claims that (3) necessarily follows from (1) and (2), and, because we permit expert statements of the type (1) and (2) variety, we must necessarily permit conclusions of type (3). But, for his argument to work, Judge Womack must assume that the expert testifies that all children who are fantasizing or being manipulated behave in certain ways. If only some exhibit the behaviors in question then a conclusion that a particular child is not fantasizing or being manipulated because he does not exhibit the behaviors does not necessarily follow. But, given the imprecision of psychological science and the variability of human nature, no competent and honest expert could make the global statement necessary to satisfy Judge Womack's syllogism. At most, statements of type (1) and (2) would provide some inductive support for a conclusion of type (3). But an expert opinion of type (3) would also be supported by personal observations and lay knowledge of human behavior. The latter is clearly the exclusive province of the jury, and the former, along with statements of type (1) and (2) can be imparted to the jury by the expert. The jury can then make the inferences necessary to determine whether a type (3) conclusion is warranted without the expert commenting on that issue.
This is good legal food for philosophical thought.

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