The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled this week that a superior court judge had properly precluded a defendant from introducing the opinion of an expert witness that he did not fit the profile of a pedophile. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Coates.
The defendant was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14 and dissemination of matter harmful to a minor. He had been living with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s toddler daughter when he began to sexually assault the daughter. According to the victim, the defendant touched her with his penis and rocked his body back and forth on hers. He also showed her pornography. When the victim was four years old, she told her mother about the defendant’s abuse. The mother threw the defendant out of the house.
At trial, the defense attorney sought to introduce evidence from an expert witness that the defendant did not fit the profile of a pedophile. A doctor met with the defendant for more than six hours prior to the trial. During these meetings, the doctor interviewed the defendant, reviewed the police reports related to the case, read the defendant’s medical records, and asked the defendant to complete questionnaires related to his psychosexual predilections. Following these meetings, the doctor concluded the defendant’s personality was inconsistent with that of a pedophile. At a pretrial hearing, the trial judge ruled the doctor would not be permitted to offer an opinion about the defendant’s potential criminal profile. Following his convictions, the defendant appealed.
The Appeals Court agreed with the trial judge that evidence related to criminal profiles was properly excluded at trial. The Court relied on the longstanding rule that a criminal trial addresses the defendant’s individual conduct. The fact that other people who commit certain types of crimes may share some characteristics (characteristics that are not present in the defendant) is irrelevant to whether the defendant committed the same type of crime. The defendant argued that criminal profile evidence is comparable to character evidence, which is admissible in limited circumstances in Massachusetts. The rule is a defendant can introduce character evidence in reputation form only to establish he possessed a character trait inconsistent with the crime with which he is charged. For example, a defendant charged with assault and battery can introduce evidence that he has a reputation for peacefulness and a defendant charged with a sex crime can introduce evidence that he has a reputation for morality. The Appeals Court rejected this argument, pointing out that character evidence addresses a characteristic of the defendant whereas profile evidence addresses characteristics of a class of people who have nothing to do with the case. Finally, the Court said criminal profile evidence is not admissible because the underlying theory is not scientifically valid. Science has not developed a test that can reliably determine whether somebody has previously committed a sex crime (or any other type of crime, for that matter).
The consequences of losing on appeal are particularly bad for sex offenders. In cases like this, when a defendant finished the prison sentence, the prosecutor often requests that he be involuntarily committed to the Treatment Center as a sexually dangerous person. Commitments can span from one day to life.