The case of Com. v. McGinnis involves the admissibility of expert testimony on false or distorted memories in children who are alleged victims of sexual abuse. The complainant, J.M., disclosed to his mother in 2013 that his father (the defendant) had sexually abused him years prior. J.M. was found competent to testify at trial. The defense sought to introduce expert testimony from Dr. Chambers on how therapy and interviews could potentially distort children’s memories, but the trial court precluded this. The defendant was convicted and appealed to the Superior Court, arguing the expert testimony was wrongly excluded. The Superior Court upheld the trial court’s ruling. The defendant then appealed to SCOPA
SCOPA agreed to review whether generalized expert testimony on distorted memories in children is admissible. On Dec. 1, being equally divided, affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling. There were two separate opinions that supported affirming the lower courts’ rulings. both opinions that supported affirmance concluded the expert testimony on memory taint was not admissible because:
- It was not sufficiently linked/connected to evidence in the case that may have tainted the complainant’s memories (Justice Mundy’s opinion),
- Or the proffer of the testimony was too vague/non-specific to assess its relevance and value to the jury (Justice Donohue’s concurrence).
The dissenting opinion by Justice Wecht would have allowed the testimony, finding the statute governing expert testimony on victim responses in sexual assault cases was expansive enough to encompass the proposed testimony.
As of Jan. 8, we are still waiting for the opinion on the Com v. Torsilieri case.
Our Legal Committee has created a handy resource that collects PA Supreme Court Cases concerning sexual offense challenges. This spreadsheet can be found on our website at https://parsol.org/legal-cases/.While PARSOL does not give legal advice, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about these and other cases working their way through the courts.