How an Expert Witness’s Improper Testimony About the Truthfulness of Another Witness May Help You Get a New Trial in Your Maryland Case

When you find yourself as the defendant in a criminal trial, your very freedom often hangs in the balance. As a result, it is vitally important to be sure you have a Maryland criminal attorney on your side who knows how to put together an effective defense. “Effective defense” means many things, including making sure that potentially harmful expert witness evidence that is inadmissible is kept out of your case and prevented from causing you to endure a conviction as a result of an unfair trial process.

Expert witnesses can be very powerfully impactful on your case, whether they are prosecution experts negatively impacting your case or defense experts favorably influencing your case. Juries may often see experts as particularly credible and give their statements a high degree of weight. That means that, whenever possible, you should take advantage of opportunities to exclude expert evidence offered by the state. There are multiple different ways that an expert’s evidence can be inadmissible. E.M.’s sex-crime case was an example of one such scenario.

The state had charged the man with sex crimes related to contact with a minor. The state called a licensed social worker to testify about child sex abuse, grooming and a victim’s delayed reporting of abuse. E.M.’s legal team did not object to the social worker’s status as an expert. Instead, the defense used its cross-examination opportunity to quiz the social worker about false assertions of child sexual abuse, thereby raising seeking to raise a possible reasonable doubt regarding the truth of the alleged victim’s allegations. The social worker indicated, while on the witness stand, that only 2% of child sex abuse allegations were false.

The defense objected to the social worker’s testimony about the frequency of false reporting, but the trial judge allowed the evidence in. The jury eventually convicted E.M. on all charges.

The accused man appealed and won a new trial. The basis of his appeal, and the flaw with the first trial, which required a new trial, was the social worker’s testimony about the frequency of false reports of sexual abuse. The law allows expert witnesses wide latitude when it comes to the subjects about which they can opine. If the party that presented the expert has established that the witness is a legitimate expert in an area, then the expert generally may offer her opinions about things within that area.

Experts generally cannot tell juries whether other witnesses are lying or speaking the truth

One thing an expert witness cannot do, however, is offer opinions about the credibility of other fact witnesses. Determining whether or not a witness is credible is solely the job of the jury. The jurors must do that on their own. Judges should not allow “a statement, belief or opinion of another person” to go to the jury if that statement relates to whether another witness is lying or telling the truth.

What this means, especially for defendants in cases involving allege child victims, is that the prosecution cannot offer social workers, psychologists or other professionals as experts who testify that, in their expert professional opinions, the alleged child victim was an actual victim of sexual abuse or was not fabricating his/her story.

Although the state’s social worker in E.M.’s case didn’t go that far, her statement still went too far. By stating that only 1 in 50 child sex abuse allegations was false, the social worker improperly bolstered the testimony of the alleged victim. That was what the law calls a “harmful error,” and required that E.M. get a new trial.

Getting or keeping inadmissible prosecution evidence excluded from your criminal trial is just one of many jobs your criminal defense team has. To get powerful defense representation for your criminal case, reach out to knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been providing helpful counsel for the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Wrongfully Excluded Evidence of an Alleged Victim’s Dishonesty and Threats to Get the Accused ‘In Trouble’ Result in a New Trial for One Maryland Man, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 30, 2018

When the Prosecution Can (and Cannot) use Opinion Evidence about a Witness’ Truthfulness in a Maryland Criminal Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2018

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