Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court
No. SCWC-14-0000355, Thursday, July 2, 2015, 10 a.m.
STATE OF HAWAI`I, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. WILLIAM MCDONNELL, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant.
The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:
Supreme Court Courtroom
Ali`iolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Attorney for Petitioner:
Craig W. Jerome, Deputy Public Defender
Attorney for Respondent:
Stephen K. Tsushima, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney
NOTE: Order accepting Application for Writ of Certiorari, filed 05/19/15.
COURT: MER, CJ; PAN, SSM, RWP, and MDW, JJ.
Petitioner/Defendant-Appellant William McDonnell was prosecuted for sexual assault of a minor less than fourteen years old. During the trial, a practicing psychologist was qualified as an expert in child sex abuse and was permitted to testify regarding the behavior of child sex abuse victims and the common characteristics and practices of child molesters.
McDonnell objected to the expert’s testimony as being unduly prejudicial and irrelevant. In objecting to the testimony as unduly prejudicial, McDonnell was particularly concerned with the use of statistics by the expert and the expert’s testimony regarding the common characteristics and practices of child molesters. The family court found that the expert testimony was admissible and any prejudice to the defendant was outweighed by its probative value.
Following his conviction, McDonnell appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) arguing that the family court erred in admitting the expert testimony because the testimony was irrelevant, did not assist the jury, improperly bolstered the complainant’s credibility, improperly profiled McDonnell as a child molester, and was unduly prejudicial. The State argued that the family court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony because the testimony was relevant, was not unfairly prejudicial, and did not provide an opinion regarding the complainant’s credibility.
The ICA, in a summary disposition order, agreed with the State and found that the family court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the expert testimony. In its analysis, the ICA considered the expert’s testimony regarding child victim behavior and testimony regarding the characteristics and practices of child molesters. The Honorable Lawrence M. Reifurth concurred with the ICA majority regarding the testimony concerning the behavior of victims, but he dissented from the ICA’s conclusion with respect to the testimony regarding the common characteristics and practices of child molesters. McDonnell filed an application for writ of certiorari on April 10, 2015, presenting one question for review–whether the ICA gravely erred in holding that the family court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the expert testimony.