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Amicus Briefs

The Leadership Council is dedicated to providing all courts with science-based advocacy to ensure that the justice system develops sound legal doctrines and metes out fair results based on methodologically valid research regarding interpersonal violence and the impact of trauma on individuals and society.

Our advisory board is comprised of internationally known forensic experts, editors and reviewers for major journals, and leaders in both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. We believe that reliable science is essential to a just society and a fair legal system. To this end, the LC has served as a resource for prosecutors and plaintiff attorneys all over the country in difficult cases involving child abuse. In precendent setting cases,

The impact of trauma on individuals who have experienced interpersonal violence is often misunderstood, and is rarely well-represented, in criminal, civil and family court litigation. (for example, see common myths about child sexual abuse)

For example, the reaction of rape victims is commonly described as "unusual" or "inconsistent" with common sense. Children abused by one parent often have their credibility attacked by accusations that the other, protective parent is using "alienation syndrome" to force the child to lie about abuse. Other victims who learn to accommodate abuse as a means of survival are frequently perceived as having suffered little or no harm, and those whose brains literally dissociate to avoid conscious recall of overwhelmingly traumatic harm are accused of having "false memories" when they become able to remember and confront the terrifying past. 

A substantial body of well-settled research explains how trauma affects victims and why a wide spectrum of behaviors is considered "normal".  But this data is rarely incorporated into our legal system's assessment of victims' credibility. 

The Leadership Council was founded to enhance the understanding of trauma in law and society, and to improve the ability of judges and jurors to make fair decisions for traumatized individuals who seek justice. We invite you to contact the LC if you become aware of a case likely to be reviewed by an appellate court that you believe could use out amicus intervention. Contact the Leadership Council at to request an amicus brief or to learn more about this service. To submit a case, provide an overview of the case and the main issues being litigated. The advisory board will then assess the merits of the case and the appropriateness of the Council's involvement.

The documents below are examples of briefs filed by the Leadership Council. Requests for briefs are considered in all types of cases, though briefs are typically filed only at the appellate level.

Some of the Cases In Which the Leadership Council Submitted Amicus Letters, Briefs, or Declarations

Listing in reverse chronological order

  • Commonwealth vs. Paul Shanley.
    Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, decided Jan. 15, 2010

    Read LC's Amicus Brief (pdf)
    The Leadership Council submitted an amicus brief in to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court advising the court on scientific knowledge regarding dissociative memory loss. On February 7, 2005, Paul Shanley was convicted of sexually abusing a child. The abuse occurred between 1983 and 1989 when the victim was attending classes at the church where the defendant served as a Catholic priest. Shanley appealed his conviction saying that it was based on recovered memory. His defense team contended that 'repressed memory' is a pernicious, unreliable, junk science notion without scientific verification.
    The LC submitted a brief explaining why this position regarding scientific acceptance of dissociative memory loss is inaccurate, and why the Court's determination that testimony on dissociative memory loss and recovery is admissible was correct. The Court affirmed the conviction and held that " the judge's finding that the lack of scientific testing did not make unreliable the theory that an individual may experience dissociative amnesia was supported in the record, not only by expert testimony but by a wide collection of clinical observations and a survey of academic literature."
  • Wilkins v. Ferguson
    (Nos. 05-FM-1555 and 05-FM-1556, Decided July 19, 2007)
    Court: The District of Columbia Court of Appeals

    View Court Decision
    The Leadership Council submitted an amicus brief to the DC Court of Appeals in a very complex and challenging case involving the sexual abuse of a young child by her father. A unanimous panel of the DC Court of Appeals issued a lengthy opinion which powerfully vindicated not only our position in the case, but also the protective purposes of DC's custody and abuse statutes. The court rejected the lower court's unfounded speculation that the child might have fabricated sexual abuse incidents merely because she "senses her mother's dislike for her father." The Court's strong affirmation of the statute's command that the burden is on the abuser to demonstrate the child's safety in visitation will be important for future litigants.

  • In re C.A.R.
    Court of Appeals in Tennessee
    The Leadership Council submitted an amicus brief in to the Court of Appeals in Tennessee. The appeals court overturned of a lower court decision to place a young boy in the sole custody of his father who he repeatedly disclosed was abusing him (In re C.A.R.; No. M2005-02286-COA-R3-CV - decided August 30, 2006). The Court overturned the lower court ruling and the boy was returned to the custody of his protective mother. The trial court judge was publicly reprimanded for her actions during this complex child custody case (see news article published June 7, 2007). A thank you note from the mother's counsel attributed the child's rescue from a lifetime of abuse to our brief (Read lawyers' thank you letter to the LC).

    QUESTIONS PRESENTED

    1. Did the lower Court violate Tenn. Code Ann. §36-6-112, the "Protective Parent Reform Act" when the Court deprived the mother of custody for her good faith belief that the child was the victim of abuse by the father?
    2. Does the evidence preponderate against the Court's finding that the best interests of the child required making the father the primary residential parent?
  • Nicole Taus vs. Elizabeth Loftus et al.
    Brief filed: April 11, 2006
    Court: Supreme Court of California
    Read LC's Amicus Brief (pdf)
    The Leadership Council submitted an amicus brief to the California Supreme Court in the case of Taus v. Loftus. Our brief sought to educate the court about the need to hold psychologists to ethical guidelines regarding research practices especially when dealing with abuse survivors. Dr. Fink's letter on the importance of this case was published in the Wall Street Journal (January 27, 2007). The case settled in September of 2007. Information on the settlement.
  • John Doe vs. Archdiocese of Milwaukee
    Brief filed: February 18, 2005
    Court: Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    Read Full-Text Amicus Brief (PDF, 971K)

    The LC asked the Court to apply the discovery rule to this case and to other cases involving childhood sexual abuse in a manner which is consistent with the clinical and scientific research about childhood sexual abuse and to allow childhood sexual abuse victims the opportunity to prove that they experienced delayed discovery.
  • Commonwealth vs. Frangipane
    Brief filed: March 30, 2001
    Court: Supreme Court of Massachusetts,
    Read Full-Text Amicus Brief (PDF, 219K)
    The LC asked the Court to revise its ruling in the case so as to clarify that the occurence of traumatic amnesia is not controversial. As a result of this ruling, trauma victims do not have to undergo a lengthy and costly Daubert-type hearing before testifying about their injuries in court.
  • State of California v. Blanchard
    Declaration filed: July 11, 2001
    The LC asked the Court not to disqualify two highly qualified experts from testifying on behalf of an abused child. Although there was no evidence that the child had been coached into alleging abuse, the defense offered misleading and often inaccurate testimony to argue that children are so suggestible as to be unreliable witnesses. The defense also moved to strike the testimony of two expert witnesses who cited their own and other's research showing abused children are frequently truthful when disclosing abuse. The LC's declaration detailed the reasons why the testimony of these two well-qualified experts should not be stricken from the record. The testimony was allowed to stand.
  • Danaipour v. McLarey
    Brief filed: April 3, 2001
    Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
    View Court Decision

    Read Full-Text Amicus Brief (PDF, 198 kb)
    This was a precedent setting case dealing with the Hague Convention. The LC asked the Court not to remove two young children from their mother and send them into the custody of their father in another country, without first investigating the children's abuse claims against him. The Court of Appeals agreed holding that a full abuse evaluation must be preformed before determining whether the children should be separated from their mother and returned to the custody of their alleged abuser.

 

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