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Protecting the Victim's Privacy: United States v. Morris

NCJ Number
Toolsi G. Meisner, J.D.
Date Published
December 2011
2 pages
This paper reviews the implications of the holding of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in "United States v. Morris," which examined the justification for the prosecution to have an expert witness (a psychologist) to examine and testify about the victim's behavior following an alleged sexual assault, as well as the defendant's claim that he should be allowed to have a defense-recommended psychologist also examine the victim's mental state.
The court held that the psychologist who examined the victim may be allowed to testify as an expert concerning her clinical interview and testing of the victim; her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); the characteristics and behavior of sexual abuse victims generally; and her expert opinion that the victim's PTSD is consistent with what would be expected of a victim following the trauma of sexual assault. The psychologist would also be permitted to testify to limited statements made by the victim that were relevant to the psychologist's opinion and diagnosis. The court concluded that this type of expert testimony is relevant to the victim's lack of consent and that its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. In addition, the court denied Morris' request to conduct his own independent psychological evaluation of the victim, because there was no compelling need for such a drastic measure. The court clarified that although the defendant's alleged need for the examination is an important factor to consider in exercising this discretion, the court must also consider the infringement on a witness' privacy, the opportunity for harassment of the witness, and the possibility that an examination will hamper law enforcement by deterring witnesses from coming forward. 4 notes