Monday, November 07, 2016

Questonable Expert Testimony Allowed

U.S. v. Chapman, No. 15-2143 & 15-2173 (10/24/16)(NM) - A troubling affirmation of the district court's admission of expert testimony in a hard-fought appeal. Husband and wife ("D.V.") accused each other of instigating an assault. The defense noted that photos of D.V. taken four hours after the altercation showed scratches on her chest that were not evident in photos taken shortly after the altercation occurred. D.V. had reported to police that Chapman had scratched her chest, but when confronted with the defense's observation, conceded that she must have caused the scratches herself. The district court permitted the government to present testimony from a SANE "expert" that domestic violence victims often injure themselves--without realizing it--as a coping mechanism. Although this "expert" had never spoken with D.V. and merely read the police report and looked at photos, she testified that what D.V. did was consistent with cases she had seen involving victims' self-injury. A condition called non-suicidal self-injury is characterized by self-infliction of injury on at least five occasions during a year. Here, however, there was no indication that D.V. had injuring themselves. Despite a dearth of supporting data, the district court permitted expert testimony that a single trauma could be so upsetting that a victim could injure herself one time only as a way to deal with trauma. The Tenth decides this was not an abuse of discretion - the testimony was sufficiently reliable, could help the jury understand the evidence, did not directly bolster D.V.'s testimony about why she scratched herself, and did not unfairly prejudice Chapman.

The Tenth rejects the government's cross-appeal sentencing argument that, despite the Assimilative Crimes Act requirement that a defendant is subject to the minimum and maximum punishments provided by state law, the district court had authority under 18 U.S.C. ยง 3551(a) to impose a higher sentence than state law permits. Section 3551(a) requires the sentencing court to apply the guidelines to impose a sentence within the range state law provides.