Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No.
Arthur, Leahy, Beachley, JJ.
a three-day jury trial in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel
County, appellant Joseph Walter was convicted of sexual abuse
of a minor, but acquitted of second-degree rape and of
committing a third-degree sexual offense. The court sentenced
Walter to 20 years' imprisonment and required him to
register as a sex offender. He noted this timely appeal.
we conclude that the court erred in allowing the jury to view
the portions of a recorded interview in which a police
detective repeatedly expressed her disbelief of Walter's
claims of innocence and her opinions concerning his guilt, we
reverse the conviction and remand for a new trial. We address
several other matters to provide guidance on remand.
and Procedural History
summer of 2012, M., then 12 years old,  lived with her
two half-brothers, her mother ("Mother"), and her
stepfather ("Stepfather"). While M., her younger
brothers, and Mother visited family members for a month,
Walter, who is Stepfather's brother, began living in
M.'s family home.
the other family members returned to Maryland shortly before
school started. M. testified that she was "very
close" to Walter at that time and that she would spend
time together with him and his son.
to M., one night while Walter was staying at the house, she
had a nightmare. She asked Walter to come into her room. They
lay down in her bed. He was "probably" wearing
boxers; she was wearing sweat pants. She told him that she
was going to bed, and he left. He did not touch her
point thereafter, M. testified, Walter came into her room
again, at night, without an invitation, when the door was
closed. He lay down behind her and touched her breast with
his hand, outside of her clothing. He said nothing and got up
next night, she testified, Walter came into her room again,
without an invitation, when the door was closed. He lay
behind her and touched her breast and her buttocks, under her
clothing. He got up and left again, saying nothing.
following night, M. testified, Walter came into her room yet
again, without an invitation, when the door was closed. He
touched her breast and buttocks over her clothes while she
was lying on her side in bed. At some point, she got to her
feet, and he put his penis inside of her while she was
standing. He ejaculated into a towel that came from the
next night, M. testified, Walter tried to come into her room
again. In describing what happened next, M. testified:
"I push him away and tell my mother." It is unclear
from M.'s testimony what she told Mother, but a
subsequent question implies that she said that Walter was
trying to get into her room. The following day, Mother
replaced the doorknob on M.'s door with a doorknob that
had a lock. The next day, M. testified, Walter moved out of
Walter moved out, M. continued to see him, go to his house,
and hang out with his son. She testified that she said
nothing more about what Walter had done because she did not
want to tear apart the family.
first told her parents about the abuse in early
2016. She had been out past curfew and was
brought home by a police officer, who insisted on speaking
with her father. She was very upset, was crying, and was
afraid that she was going to get into trouble. At that
moment, she told Stepfather that Walter "had sex with
[her]." In her testimony, M. admitted that she had lied
to her parents to get out of trouble.
testified that she and Stepfather waited a day before telling
Mother about the abuse. At some point thereafter, they called
the police. M. was punished for staying out past curfew.
cross-examination, the defense elicited testimony suggesting
that M. might not be an entirely reliable narrator. M. had
initially told the police detectives that Walter had had
sexual intercourse with her on two occasions, but at trial
she admitted that that was "not true." She had
falsely told the detectives that, on one occasion when Walter
tried to enter her room, she had pushed back against the
door, screamed, and woke up her mother, who had pushed Walter
away. She had told Stepfather that Walter choked her, but at
trial she denied having done so. At first, she had told the
detectives that she was "terrified" of Walter and
"didn't really talk to him"; in a later
interview, after asking whether she could call Walter, she
told the detectives that she had already called him and that
he had told her that she was lying; but at trial she admitted
that she had invented her account of the call and that no
such call ever took place.
cross-examination of M. also suggested that she was having a
great deal of trouble at school and at home when she first
claimed that Walter had sexually abused her. She had been
suspended from the eighth grade, apparently for bringing
alcohol and a bong to school, and her grades were not good.
She had been in trouble with the police, and she was having a
hard time getting along with both of her parents. Her mother
was at wit's end. She had been home-schooled for a while,
and there was some discussion about sending her to school
out-of-state. At the recommendation of Walter's wife, M.
received counseling. But although the counseling was
confidential, M. did not disclose the abuse to her counselor.
cross-examination established that M. continued to have
contact with Walter after the abuse. She would see him at
family gatherings. She called him, sent him text-messages,
and talked to him on Facetime, and she went to his house and
spent the night there on multiple occasions. She told
Walter's wife, with whom she had become close, that she
wanted to move out of her parents' house and live with
her biological father.
a few days or weeks before she accused Walter of abusing her,
Stepfather gave Walter a used pickup truck that was supposed
to be for her.
testified that before 2012 M. was doing well in school,
played sports, and had a good group of friends.
the late summer or early fall of 2012, Mother testified, M.
came to her and her husband and said that Walter "was
going in and trying to wake her up in the middle of the
night." Because M.'s doorknob did not have a lock,
they took the doorknob from their bedroom door (which had a
lock) and put it on hers. A day or two later, M. told them
that Walter "was trying to get in after the locks were
changed." The next day, they asked Walter to leave.
Walter had told the police detectives that he had been
sleepwalking while he lived at his brother's house, but
Mother said that she never saw him sleepwalk.
Walter moved out, Mother testified, M. started to go
downhill. Nonetheless, M. continued to have good interactions
with Walter during that time, and she would sometimes go to
agreed that M. sometimes lies, but said that she does not lie
to get others in trouble. Mother said that M. is punished
when she lies.
testified that, in January or February of 2016, M. disclosed
the abuse. M. came to her and asked if she "knew."
Mother responded, "I'm not quite sure what
you're talking about." M. explained that Walter
"had slept with her." According to Mother, M. was
M. disclosed the abuse, Mother conferred with her husband
about what to do. After three or four days, she said, they
called the police.
cross-examination, Mother testified that it was actually
about four weeks before they spoke to the police detectives
and that the delay occurred, in part, because M. was known to
lie a lot. In addition, Mother confirmed M.'s testimony
about the turmoil in her private life at that time: she had
been suspended from school, she had run away, she had had
multiple encounters with the police, and her parents had
considered sending her out-of-state to a boarding school.
Finally, Mother testified that, contrary to M.'s
statement to the detectives, she had never heard M. screaming
in the night and had never confronted Walter and pushed him
away from M.'s door.
testified that, in the summer or fall of 2012, Walter had a
"normal" relationship with M., and M. was a
"normal" child. Stepfather said that he never saw
any evidence of Walter sleepwalking before or during the
summer or fall of 2012.
result of a conversation with his wife, Stepfather changed
the doorknob on M.'s bedroom door about a month after his
wife and children returned from their vacation. On the
morning after he changed the doorknob, Stepfather had another
conversation with his wife. As a result of that conversation,
he and his father told Walter that he had scared M. and that
he had to leave. Over an objection, Stepfather testified that
Walter looked as though he was "trapped" during
that conversation. Walter moved out, but continued to come to
Stepfather's house to visit.
Walter moved out, Stepfather testified, M.'s behavior
began to change, but he did not elaborate on how. Like his
wife, Stepfather agreed that M. sometimes lies, but does not
lie to get others in trouble.
February of 2016, M. had run away. The police brought her
home. Stepfather testified that he confronted her, asking
"Where is this behavior coming from?," and
"[A]re you okay?" She began crying and disclosed
did not tell his wife what M. had said. Instead, a day or two
later, he said, M. told her mother of the abuse.
to Stepfather, he and his wife called the police about a
month later. In the interim, they had taken M. to a
counselor. The counselor directed them to call the police.
request of the police, Stepfather called Walter. Unbeknownst
to Walter, the police were listening in on the call, which
was played for the jury. In the call, Stepfather told Walter
that, according to M., he had "fingered her" and
"choked her out and had sex with
her." Walter categorically denied the
allegations. He claimed that he sleepwalked into her room one
night, lay down, woke up, and left the room. In addition, he
remembered an incident when M. came to the couch where he was
sleeping and lay down with him because she was having a
cross-examination, Stepfather could not recall telling the
police that he had changed the locks because M. had said that
Walter was sleepwalking. Nor could he recall telling the
police that Walter had sleepwalked when he was a child.
of Erin Lemon
defense objection, the State called Erin Lemon, whom the
court accepted as an expert "in the fields of sexual
child abuse generally, delayed disclosure [of sexual abuse],
and child development."
Lemon, a social work supervisor with the Anne Arundel County
Department of Social Services, testified about factors that
may cause a child to delay a report of sexual abuse. They
include the child's age and development; the child's
relationship with the alleged perpetrator; the "grooming
process," in which a perpetrator subtly persuades or
manipulates the child not to disclose the abuse; and the
child's own understanding of what sexual abuse is. On the
basis of her experiences, Ms. Lemon opined that "it is
very common for children who have been sexually abused to
delay reporting that abuse, especially when that abuse . . .
was caused by a family member or someone who's ...