MICHAEL T. v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, SC 19229

Judicial District of Tolland

 

†††† †Habeas; Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; Whether Trial Counsel was Ineffective in Failing to Present Expert Testimony Regarding the Reliability of a Young Childís Belated Disclosure of Sexual Abuse. †The petitioner was convicted of sexual assault in the first degree and risk of injury to a child in connection with the sexual abuse of a four year old child.† He subsequently filed a habeas petition, claiming that his trial counsel had been ineffective in failing to present expert testimony to challenge the stateís expert evidence regarding the reliability of the childís belated disclosure of sexual abuse.† During the habeas trial, the petitioner called Suzanne Sgroi as an expert witness in the field of child sexual abuse.† Sgroi testified that the investigation that led to the petitionerís arrest was flawed from the outset because it was triggered by the childís diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease, which caused investigators to falsely assume that a male must have sexually abused her.† She also testified that the childís disclosure of sexual abuse about a year after the diagnosis was unreliable because she was a young child who suffered from several developmental delays and because she was repeatedly questioned by her mother and by investigators in a manner that likely tainted the disclosure of abuse.† The habeas court concluded that trial counselís failure to call an expert witness during the petitionerís criminal trial constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.† On appeal, the respondent argued that defense counselís cross-examination of the stateís witnesses during the criminal trial sufficiently informed the jury about the relevant issues regarding the reliability of the childís belated disclosure of sexual abuse.† The respondent also contended that Sgroiís testimony would not have been admissible in the petitionerís criminal trial.† The Appellate Court (144 Conn. App. 45) rejected the respondentís claims, finding that under the particular circumstances of this case, the habeas court properly determined that the failure of the petitionerís trial counsel to utilize an expert witness constituted deficient performance, which prejudiced the petitioner.† It reasoned that trial counselís cross-examination of the stateís witnesses failed to elicit any information regarding the reliability issues that were raised by Sgroiís testimony.† The court also rejected the respondentís claim that Sgroiís testimony would not have been admissible in the petitionerís criminal trial, determining that the respondent improperly failed to raise that issue during the habeas proceeding.† It decided that Sgroiís testimony would have been admissible because it properly identified the factors that affect the reliability of a childís disclosure of sexual abuse without proffering an opinion as to whether the child was a credible witness.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that defense counsel was ineffective in failing to present expert testimony regarding the reliability of a young childís belated disclosure of sexual abuse.