Parts of this post were used in Aggravated.
Bolstering Truthfulness – Gonzo’s Trial
In the previous post, we looked at Blake Goudy’s and Ada Dixon’s testimony in Steve’s trial, and I wondered if Dixon’s insistence that her clients were always truthful was typical of her trial behavior. In the court’s opinion for the appeal for Gonzo v. Texas, another trial Dixon testified in, I found a slightly different take. Gonzo was given a 16-year prison sentence for the offense of indecency with a child. In Gonzo’s appeal, one of his arguments was that Dixon violated Texas Rule of Evidence 702 when she testified during the punishment phase of the trial that she felt there had been more incidents of abuse that the victim hadn’t disclosed to her. It almost seemed as if Dixon was angling for Gonzo to receive a higher sentence.
Gonzo’s appeal relied on an often used court case, Sessums v. State, to support his argument that Dixon “could not testify as a ‘clairvoyant’ as to whether the victim had told her everything.” The appeals court rejected that by saying that “In Sessums, expert witnesses directly testified as to the truthfulness and credibility” of the victim, and “Such testimony is inadmissible under Rule 702.” They added that “In contrast to the experts in Sessums, Dixon did not testify regarding the truthfulness of the victim.” For those reasons, the court ruled against Gonzo; but, in Steve’s case, directly testifying “as to the truthfulness and credibility” of Hanna is exactly what both Dixon and Goudy did.
Steve’s court-appointed appeals attorney, Max Sommers, argued about the issue of truthfulness, but he didn’t cite Sessums. He made an argument about Dixon giving an “opinion regarding the victim’s truthfulness,” but he argued that Steve’s trial attorney, Cleveland Sanford, was ineffective because he didn’t object to Dixon saying, “After working with her so long, you know that she is telling the truth.” The appeals court ruled against Sommers’ argument, citing the case, Strickland v. Washington, along with several others, to point out that Sommers hadn’t met the criteria for proving that Steve’s attorney had been ineffective in his defense.
I wonder if they would have ruled differently if Sommers had instead cited Sessums, and argued that Dixon was violating Rule 702 because she had testified directly to Hanna’s truthfulness. Probably not. Higher courts seem to be reluctant to overturn lower ones unless they have done something so blatant that they can’t deny it. Appeals courts, it seems to me, often use any excuse (however vague) to back up the lower court’s ruling.
In the next post we’ll look at Ada Dixon’s summary of a few of her sessions with Hanna, and after that we’ll examine the book she wrote (which she said she gives to all of her “victims”), and her views on some other subjects (like gay conversion therapy and healing through prayer, not very scientific).
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