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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State ex rel. Gardner v. Wright, --- S.W.3d ---, No. ED 106935, 2018 WL 3978352 (Mo. Ct. App. Aug. 21, 2018)

November 08, 2018

Petitioner, on behalf of the state, sought a writ of prohibition against a judge to prevent him from enforcing his order excluding expert testimony regarding the general behavior of children disclosing sexual abuse.  The court considered, for the first time, the state’s newly-adopted standards regarding expert testimony in criminal cases.  It determined that under the new rule, expert testimony must be relevant and reliable, and proffered by a qualified expert.  Evidence is relevant if it contains specialized knowledge that will assist the trier of fact. The court specifically stated that the precedent of Frye would no longer be followed in Missouri—a “significant departure” from the way the courts had handled scientific expert testimony in criminal cases up to this point.  However, the relevance analysis remained unchanged.  Missouri precedent holds that generalized testimony about the behaviors of children alleging sexual abuse is specialized knowledge that is helpful to juries because the average juror is not familiar with the behavioral characteristics of victims of child molesting.  The court reaffirmed that this analysis continues to apply, and that the court was in error when it excluded the proffered expert testimony because expert testimony about delayed disclosure is outside the jury’s common knowledge and will assist the jury in understanding a child-victim’s delay in disclosure.  Finding the ruling to be contrary to the plain language of the statute, and a significant departure from Missouri precedent regarding expert testimony in sexual abuse prosecutions, the court directed the judge to set aside the decision granting the motion to exclude the expert’s testimony.