Commonweslth v. Dula

The defendant appealed after a jury convicted him of crimes for his sexual abuse of a mentally and physically disabled woman in his care. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed. First, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it refused to strike a prospective juror for cause after the juror revealed during voir dire that she had been the victim of an indecent assault when she was 13 years old. The Superior Court found that the prospective juror did not demonstrate such a “close situational relationship” with the victim that she should have been dismissed for cause. Next, the defendant challenged the trial court’s admission of the victim’s primitive sounds and nonverbal reactions to the defendant. The Court held that because the defendant was accused of sexually abusing a mentally disabled, non-verbal victim, evidence of the victim’s negative reaction to him was relevant to determining the victim’s state of mind. Furthermore, the testimony concerning the victim’s primitive noises and non-verbal behavior directed towards the defendant was not inadmissible hearsay evidence. The rule against hearsay applies only to statements, which include oral, written, or non-verbal conduct, but only if the person making the “statement” intended it as an “assertion.” Here, it was not disputed that due to her disability, the victim was incapable of making assertions, i.e., a declaration made “with the intent of expressing a fact or opinion.”

DULA