State v. C.W.H.

In State v. C.W.H., the New Jersey Appellate Division confronted a problematic trial in which the defendant was convicted of sexually assaulting his young daughter decades after the alleged crimes. The Appellate Division found plain error in testimony admitted from two of the State’s primary witnesses: the investigating detective and a relative who received the victim’s “fresh complaint” of abuse. First, the Appellate Division found plain error in allowing the detective to add commentary to his interrogation of the defendant. The detective explained that “[t]his is actually a textbook interview of somebody being deceptive throughout the whole, entire interview. He’s not answering questions . . . . He’s answering saying I don’t remember, I can’t recall, I don’t recall. That’s not what an innocent person says. An innocent person says no, never, that never happened.” The Court held that this evidence bore directly on the ultimate issue at trial and a single curative instruction was not sufficient. Second, the Court held that a relative could not offer fresh-complaint testimony because the complaint was made 16 years after the fact, thus not “fresh” at all. And that same witness should not have permitted to testify that the allegations confirmed her “intuition” that the defendant was up to something nefarious.

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