August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Any Relevance of Polygraph Examination Overly Prejudicial and Confusing to Jury

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of G.E.S. on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Dependency and Neglect—Sexual Abuse—Evidence—Psychosexual Evaluation—Polygraph Examination—Child Hearsay.

Father’s 12-year-old stepdaughter, J.O-E., made allegations of father’s inappropriate sexual behavior toward her to her therapist. She made additional allegations in a recorded forensic interview. Shortly thereafter, J.O-E. recanted her story. In the meantime, the family voluntarily cooperated with the Department of Human Services (Department) and followed the Department’s recommended safety plan, which required father to leave the family home and have no contact with his infant child G.E.S. or any of his three stepchildren. Father took a psychosexual evaluation, but because he refused to take a polygraph examination, the Department filed a dependency and neglect petition as to G.E.S. Father denied the allegations and requested a jury trial. At a pre-trial hearing, the court determined that J.O-E. was unavailable to testify, and at trial, admitted her hearsay statements without her testifying. The court also ruled that the probative value of evidence regarding the evaluation and polygraph refusal outweighed its prejudicial effect and allowed this evidence. After the jury returned its verdict, the court entered judgment adjudicating G.E.S. dependent and neglected.

On appeal, father contended that the district court erred in admitting evidence that he underwent a psychosexual evaluation and refused to undergo a polygraph examination. Under the Children’s Code, father had no duty to cooperate by completing a psychosexual evaluation and polygraph. Further, evidence of polygraph test results is per se inadmissible at an adjudicatory trial because they are not reliable. Here, the prejudicial impact of both the polygraph evidence and evidence of father’s partial cooperation with the Department’s request that he complete its evaluative processes required reversal.

Father also contended that the court erred in admitting J.O-E.’s hearsay statements. Under CRS § 13-25-129(1), an out-of-court statement made by a child describing an unlawful sexual offense, which would otherwise be inadmissible, is admissible if the court determines that (1) the time, content, and circumstances of the statements provide sufficient safeguards of reliability; and (2) the child either testifies at trial or is unavailable as a witness and there is corroborative evidence of the act that is the subject of the statements. Here, father did not challenge the court’s findings that the statements were reliable and that corroborative evidence supported J.O-E.’s statements. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that the Sixth Amendments’ Confrontation Clause does not extend to dependency and neglect cases, and the record supported the finding that J.O.-E. was not available to testify, because testifying would gravely harm her mental and emotional health. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting J.O-E.’s hearsay statements.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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