Church v. Commonwealth (1985) – Case Brief Summary (Virginia)

In Church v. Commonwealth, 230 Va. 208, 335 S.E.2d 823 (1985), the defendant was convicted of the rape of a seven- year-old girl.

The girl's mother testified that, several weeks after the rape, she noticed changes in her daughter's behavior, including bed-wetting, nightmares, complaint of a vaginal itch, and fear of being left alone with her father or her brother.

The mother then said that the child "had an obsession with my husband's and my sex life. She would ask questions and when I'd give her an answer, she'd cry. She'd tell me she didn't want me--us to do that because it was dirty, nasty and it hurt." (335 S.E.2d at 825.)

The defendant objected on hearsay grounds.

In affirming the conviction, the Supreme Court of Virginia held:

The Commonwealth did not offer the child's statement to prove that sex is "dirty, nasty and it hurt." Rather, it was offered to show the child's attitude toward sex, an attitude likely to have been created by a traumatic experience. Although the child made no prompt report of the crime, the Commonwealth was entitled to prove, by circumstantial evidence, that she had been a victim. Thus, the child's out-of-court statement was not hearsay, but was admissible as circumstantial evidence tending to establish the probability of a fact in issue. (335 S.E.2d at 825-26.)