Evidence Admissibility Victories

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State v. Salazar-Mercado
Expert unfamiliar with facts of case may testify to general concepts which fit the facts.
Defendant was convicted of sexual conduct and molestation of a child. He appealed the trial court's admission of expert testimony for the state from a forensic interviewer regarding the general characteristics of child molestation victims because the witness was unfamiliar with the facts of his case and had never interviewed the victim in question. He argued that Rule 702 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence, since amended with the new Daubert standards, barred this testimony. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.

Rule 702 states an expert qualified by "knowledge, skill, experience, training or education" may testify if it will help the jury and if the testimony is based upon "reliable principles and methods . . . applied to the facts of the case" (emphasis added). The defendant argued that the expert testimony of the forensic interviewer should have been precluded because she did not apply her opinions to the facts of his case. The court of appeals rejected this argument relying upon the advisory note to the rule where it states:

If the expert purports to apply principles and methods to the facts of the case, it is important that this application be conducted reliably. Yet it might also be important in some cases for an expert to educate the factfinder about general principles, without ever attempting to apply these principles to the specific facts of the case. The court held that so long as the expert's general testimony "fits" the facts of the underlying test, Rule 702 is satisfied.

The defendant then argued that the testimony was inadmissible because it could not "objectively be evaluated for known or potential rate of error." The court of appeals summarily rejected this argument stating this criteria is only applied to those circumstances where it is relevant to the scientific principles relied upon by the expert. The court found a "rate of error" irrelevant to this social science testimony.

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