There is a well-known rule in the area of criminal law that every count in an indictment should contain one offence. This rule is to ensure that an accused has a fair trial because he/she ought to know with certainty what the charge is. The accused person should be able to prepare a defense against the charges. In the People v Keindl this was issue along the alleged prejudice of the jury with the testimony of expert witness.
The defendant, Mr.Keindl was convicted of eight counts of sodomy in the first degree, ten counts of sex abuse in the first degree, five counts of sexual abuse in the second degree, and three counts of endangering the welfare of his stepchildren in the Supreme Court, Queens County and appealed. The defendant appealed because the twenty-six counts of the indictment alleged that the offenses occurred during designated periods of time, extending for as long as two years charged him with multiple offenses in individual counts in violation of rule against duplicity. The indictment also failed to allege with sufficient specificity the time of occurrence of the alleged offenses as required by criminal procedure law. He also asserted the counts of endangerment were invalid and that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of Dr. Gannon, a psychiatrist, presented to explain how children, who have been repeatedly sexually abused by their stepfather, are likely to suffer psychologically. He argued that such expert testimony is inadmissible because it went to the ultimate question of whether defendant was guilty of endangering the welfare of a child which was within the sphere of the jury to decide.
The rule in the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) states that each count of an indictment may charge one offense only. Where there is more than one offence in a count it is duplicitous. Duplicity is the joining in a single count of two or more distinct and separate offenses. It is important that an indictment is not duplicitous because it essential to the defendant’s ability to make a defense and to plead the judgment in bar of any further prosecution that he not be called upon to answer for more than one offense in each count of an indictment. The CPL requires not only that each count specify a time when or during which the crime was committed, but also specifically demands that each count of an indictment charge only one offense. The indictment is not required to state the correct date as long as it does not invalidate the indictment, and the time element does not have to be specific as long as it is within reasonable limits. The “continuous crime” theory, which would permit repeated acts of sexual molestation on young children within the family to be treated as “one continuous crime”, is not applicable to the crimes of sodomy and sexual abuse of which defendant has been convicted, since sodomy, rape and sexual abuse, as those crimes are defined in the Penal Law. The counts of sodomy and sexual abuse against the defendant which spanned periods of time extending for ten, twelve and sixteen months were so excessive on their face that they were unreasonable where victims were between eight and thirteen years old during time of offenses. Thus the prosecution was capable of discerning seasons, school holidays, birthdays or other events which could establish frame of reference to narrow time spans alleged.
The validity of the charges of child endangerment charges were assessed as the defendant claimed that they were invalid. The counts of an indictment charging defendant with the crime of endangering the welfare of a child based upon a pattern of sexual behavior toward his three stepchildren over an approximate two-year period were proper and do not require dismissal. There also was no error in admitting the testimony of a psychiatrist presented to explain how children who have been repeatedly sexually abused by their stepfather, were likely to suffer psychologically as it was a critical part of the charge of child endangerment. The testimony of expert psychological was not prejudicial as the defendant was not prevented from impeaching the expert, or from presenting his own.
The Court of Appeals, held that: (1) sexual abuse and sodomy indictments improperly charged multiple offenses in individual counts; (2) indictment counts for sexual abuse and sodomy improperly designated periods of time which were unreasonably protracted; (3) continuing crime theory did not apply to sexual abuse and sodomy counts; (4) counts accusing defendant of endangering welfare of child were valid; and (5) admission of expert testimony was not abuse of discretion.
Child molestation, child abuse and child endangerment are serious issues which require a party to have good lawyer. There are also technicalities such as the rule against duplicity which may cause an accused person to suffer some injustice. The law office of Stephen Bilkis and Associates has excellent criminal practitioners to assist you with any criminal issue.