A Dover man who was sentenced to four to five years in prison after being convicted of allegedly raping a then 15-year-old girl had the decision reversed and will face retrial, the state's highest court said last Friday.
William Polk of Dover was convicted in Norfolk Superior Court on two charges of statutory rape in Feb. 2010. He appealed his conviction and was granted his application for direct appellate review.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of evidence "was prejudicial error and therefore reverse the convictions and remand the case for a new trial."
The evidence in question was expert testimony of a licensed psychologist, Dr. Daniel Brown and the testimony of the victim's biological mother.
"On appeal, the defendant argues that the judge erred by excluding expert psychological testimony regarding "dissociation" and the evidence from [the victim's] past that suggested that [the victim] had that disorder," according to court documents.
Polk was indicted in May 2008 after the girl accused him of raping her while she and her family were visiting the Polks at their home in Dover in August 2007, according to court documents.
According to court documents, one night during the visit Polk allegedly began touching the victim inappropriately while the two were watching TV on a couch together. The following night Polk and the victim were alone watching TV, when he allegedly began touching her again and the two allegedly had sexual intercourse.
At the time of the trial, during Dr. Brown's testimony he said "that [the victim] 'meets the criteria for dissociative amnesia' because 'she has significant gaps in her memory specifically for alleged abuse, assuming that it happened,'" according to court documents.
The judge for the trial, Janet L. Sanders, according to court documents, "declared that Dr. Brown's opinion was 'wholly speculative,' noting that he based his opinion on the premise that [the victim] suffers from disorganized attachment but 'has no idea whether or not [the victim] has any current difficulty in forming attachments.'
She also noted that he had never seen [the victim] and was basing his opinion on records from at least nine years earlier.
Second, she declared that Dr. Brown's opinion 'falls clearly on that side of the line of forbidden testimony' by intruding on the jury's function of determining the credibility of witnesses.
Third, she declared that the defendant 'has been given plenty of latitude and has fully exploited every opportunity to probe memory lapses as to this incident.'
While she recognized that the defendant would not be able to 'probe prior sexual abuse and memory lapses as to those events, ... we're not on trial here for those events.' For these reasons, she concluded that the risk of prejudice arising from this testimony outweighed its probative value."
Polk's appeal contended that the exclusion of that evidence was prejudicial because it denied him the opportunity adequately to explain to the jury the significant possibility that [the victim's] allegations were either fabricated or arose from a distortion of memory, according to court documents.
Polk's attorney Max D. Stern said in an email Tuesday, "The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the convictions because Mr. Polk was denied the fundamental constitutional right to present his defense. At trial he was not permitted to prove facts about the complainant that made a false accusation a very likely possibility. Even so, the case had clearly troubled the jury, which took five days to reach a verdict. We are looking forward to the retrial and are confident that this time he will be acquitted."
According to the criminal clerk’s office at Norfolk Superior Court a date for a retrial has not yet been set.