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Georgia Supreme Court to review Hall molestation case concerning alleged ethnic stereotypes

The Georgia Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later this year on whether witness testimony described by the defense as “negative ethnic stereotypes” affected the outcome of a Hall County molestation case.

The justices issued an order Monday, April 19, putting the case of Alejandro Martinez-Arias on the court’s August oral argument calendar. 

Martinez-Arias was convicted in February 2017 after a jury trial on charges of aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and child molestation. 

Defense attorney Matt Cavedon filed a petition in September for the Georgia Supreme Court to review the conviction, alleging there was expert testimony allowed at trial that contained “odious and false” stereotypes about Latino men.

In his response to the petition, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh claimed the defense was misrepresenting the testimony.

The Georgia Supreme Court said the question it was concerned with was: “Did the trial court commit reversible error when it admitted opinion testimony about cultural characteristics of an ethnic group?”

According to the court filings, the case concerned a young girl who did not immediately disclose the alleged abuse for fear of not being believed and other repercussions.

A school counselor, Betsy Escamilla, testified in the trial.

“Ms. Escamilla explained that, based on her personal and professional experiences, traditional ideas in some Mexican homes are that the breadwinner is usually male and is seen as the head of the household, and someone to whom others in the home, especially females, should be submissive,” according to the district attorney’s response. “Additionally, Ms. Escamilla emphasized that, in her experience, traditional Mexican families are very ‘collectivistic.’ It was this collectivism, in particular, that Ms. Escamilla testified made disclosures difficult.” 

Escamilla also testified that “sexual assault is sometimes seen as the girl’s fault,” according to Darragh’s response. 

“It’s kind of seen as if it happens – and no way am I saying this is an acceptable norm, but it happens – but if it happens, it’s something that you don’t share, that you keep it quiet, that it is the girl’s fault for opening her legs and the boys are just supposed to be that way, they just have urges,” Escamilla said during the trial.

Darragh declined to comment Monday when reached by The Times.

“We’re very encouraged to see that the court is going to take a look and hopefully will help to narrow what kind of definition they use for what evidence is relevant to the truth and what’s just not,” Cavedon said Monday.

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