State v. Reyes, Minn.Ct.App., 1/9/2017. Mr. Reyes sexually assaulted his step granddaughter. The state charged him with criminal sexual conduct based on the age of the step- granddaughter and based on a "significant relationship." Mr. Reyes challenged that "significant relationship" allegation, saying that the statute's definition of that term did not extend to step _ relationships:
A “significant relationship” is defined as a circumstance in which the actor is “any of the following persons related to the complainant by blood, marriage, or adoption: brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, first cousin, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, grandparent, greatgrandparent, great-uncle, [or] great-aunt.” Minn. Stat. § 609.341, subd. 15(2).
Mr. Reyes argued, "Read the statute; it doesn't include step grandparents." The state said, "Read the statute; the phrase "related by blood, marriage, or adoption" encompasses step grandparents because they are grandparents related by marriage." The court of appeals liked both of those arguments, so it declared that the statute was ambiguous. Venturing out on its own devices - known as statutory construction - the court had no difficulty concluding that the better policy was to include step grandparents into the mix.
The state also wanted to introduce expert testimony to explain why the step granddaughter delayed for some time in reporting the abuse and to explain some of her other behavior. Mr. Reyes objected, saying that this was nothing more than bolstering the step granddaughter's credibility. Mr. Reyes made this objection pretrial; the court held a hearing on the objection pretrial but deferred a ruling until during the trial. Mr. Reyes did not renew his objection to this expert's testimony once the trial court said it could be admitted; this left his appellate issue at the mercy of the plain error standard. This allowed the court of appeals to uphold the admission of the testimony because that trial ruling was within the trial court's discretion, which the court concluded had been properly exercised. In large part the court reached this conclusion by reliance upon a 1987 case, State v. Hall, 406 N.W.2d 503 (Minn. 1987). There, the court had upheld expert testimony on the characteristics commonly exhibited by sexually abused adolescents.