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Criminal Practice – Evidence – Expert Testimony – Child Abuse – Delayed Disclosure & Caregiver Response

 

The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed an expert in child sex abuse dynamics to testify about both delayed disclosure from sex abuse victims and the behavior of non-offending caregivers.

We modify and affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision upholding defendant’s convictions for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, second-degree CSC with a minor, and two counts of committing a lewd act on a minor.

Expert witness Shauna Galloway-Williams’ testimony about delayed disclosure from sex abuse victims fits squarely within this commonly recognized category. However, the behavior of non-offending caregivers presents a less settled question.

Nevertheless, our review of the record indicates the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in finding the subject appropriate for expert testimony. The state explained it was offering Galloway-Williams’ testimony to educate the jurors on why a non-offending caregiver might fail to act after learning sexual abuse was occurring, contrary to what a reasonable person would expect.

Finding this testimony to be in a similar category as other behavioral testimony admissible in sexual abuse cases, the trial judge concluded it fell outside the scope of lay knowledge and was therefore admissible. There was ample support for the trial judge’s determination.

We reiterate that whether the subject matter of a proposed expert’s testimony is outside the realm of lay knowledge is a determination left solely to the trial judge and his or her sense of what knowledge is commonly held by the average juror. The purpose of voir dire is to assess a juror’s individual biases and overall fitness to serve on the jury – not to probe the need for expert testimony. Accordingly, we overturn that portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion and State v. Brown, 411 S.C. 332, 768 S.E.2d 246 (Ct. App. 2015), to the extent they indicate it is appropriate to evaluate the need for expert testimony based on voir dire responses.

Finally, we find that Galloway-Williams met the threshold reliability requirement when she testified that her methods were published in professional articles and trade publications, subject to peer review, and uniformly accepted and relied upon by other professionals in the field.

Affirmed as modified.

State v. Jones (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-073-18, 7 pp.) (Kaye Hearn, J.) Appealed from the Circuit Court in Greenville County (Robin Stilwell, J.) David Alexander and Lara Caudy for Petitioner; Alan McCrory Wilson, Deborah Shupe and W. Walter Wilkins III for Respondent. S.C. S. Ct.

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