In re M.M., 272 N.C. App. 55 (2020)


Held: Affirmed

  • Facts: Since the juvenile’s birth in 2010, there has been an extensive litigation history involving custody of the juvenile, including a a previous DSS action in which the juvenile was adjudicated neglected and a Chapter 50 custody action with multiple orders entered. There is significant animosity and conflict between the parents regarding the child’s custody, and the child is often exposed to that and father’s poor boundaries about his anger toward mother. In 2018, DSS filed a new petition. The child was adjudicated abused due to serious emotional damage and neglected due to injurious environment. An initial dispositional order was entered that granted physical and legal custody to mother and visitation to father as well as individual and parent counseling for each parent. Respondent father appeals - one of his arguments is that the court erred in allowing a witness to testify as an expert in psychology and child and family evaluations.
  • Expert Witness: “Whether a witness has the requisite knowledge or training to testify as an expert is within the exclusive province of the trial court, and its decision will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion.” Sl.Op. at 13 (citation omitted). Rule 702 of the Rules of Evidence governs expert testimony and has 3 parts that must be met: 1) the proposed testimony is based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that will assist the fact finder in understanding the evidence or determining a fact in issue; 2) the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, and 3) the testimony must meet the 3-prong reliability test in Rule 702(a)(1)-(3). Father challenges the third criterion. The court has discretion in determining how to address the 3-prong reliability text as it will vary from case by case. The court conducted a voir dire of the witness to address each of the prongs: (a) the facts and data used to form his opinion and the clinical protocol he used showing that his testimony was (b) the product of reliable principles and methods and (c) that those methods and principles were applied reliably to the facts of the case. There was no abuse of discretion.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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