Child Sexual Abuse Victims Can Be Required to Undergo a Mental Health Evaluation to Determine Credibility of the Report of Abuse; Ruling Not Disturbed

Article excerpt

Because criminal charges of sexual assault often center on the reports of the purported victim, the credibility of these reports is often critical. Defendants in such cases may seek a mental health evaluation of the victim to determine whether there is reason to question the credibility of the report. Victims' advocates, concerned that such evaluations may place the victims and their mental state "on trial," often object to these court-ordered mental health evaluations. The courts have wrestled with how to resolve this conflict, particularly when the purported victim is a minor.

In South Carolina, a juvenile was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor. At the time of the incident, the juvenile was 13 years old and developmentally impaired, and the alleged victim was 5 years old. The younger child often played at the juvenile's house where the two would sometimes shower together.

After watching a TV program discussing a man arrested for indecent exposure, the younger child told his mother he had been raped in the shower by the older child. During a subsequent investigation, the younger child informed a clinical psychologist that he had been hearing voices in his head. Based on this information, the older child's attorney filed a motion that would require the younger child to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine the credibility of his report.

The South Carolina Supreme Court in reviewing this request noted that other jurisdictions have split on the question. The court ultimately ruled that six factors employed by the West Virginia Supreme Court should be considered when weighing such requests: (1) the nature and intrusiveness of the examination requested, (2) the victim's age, (3) the effects of the exam on the victim, (4) the probative value of the exam, (5) the remoteness in time of the exam to the alleged criminal act, and (6) the evidence already available for the defendant's use. …