State v. Collins, COA22-488, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Apr. 4, 2023)

In this Rockingham County case, defendant appealed his convictions for statutory rape, indecent liberties with a child, and sex act by a substitute parent or guardian, arguing error in admitting expert testimony that the victim’s testimony was not coached, in granting a motion in limine preventing defendant from cross-examining the victim about her elementary school records, and in admitting a video of defendant’s interrogation showing equipment related to a polygraph examination. The Court of Appeals found no error. 

In 2021, defendant was brought to trial for the statutory rape of his granddaughter in 2017, when she was 11 years old. At trial, a forensic interviewer testified, over defendant’s objection, that he saw no indication that the victim was coached. The trial court also granted a motion in limine to prevent defendant from cross-examining the victim regarding school records from when she was in kindergarten through second grade showing conduct allegedly reflecting her propensity for untruthfulness. The conduct was behavior such as cheating on a test and stealing a pen.  

The Court of Appeals noted “[o]ur Supreme Court has held that ‘an expert may not testify that a prosecuting child-witness in a sexual abuse trial is believable [or] is not lying about the alleged sexual assault.’” Slip Op. at 2, quoting State v. Baymon, 336 N.C. 748, 754 (1994). However, the court could not point to a published case regarding a statement about coaching like the one in question here. Because there was no controlling opinion on the matter, the court engaged in a predictive exercise and held, “[b]ased upon our Supreme Court’s statement in Baymon, we conclude that it was not error for the trial court to allow expert testimony that [the victim] was not coached.” Id. at 3.

The court also found no error with the trial court’s conclusions regarding the admissibility of the victim’s childhood records under Rule of Evidence 403. The court explained that the evidence showed behavior that was too remote in time and only marginally probative regarding truthfulness. Finally, the court found no error with the interrogation video, explaining that while it is well established that polygraph evidence is not admissible, the video in question did not show a polygraph examination. Instead, the video merely showed “miscellaneous items on the table and not the actual polygraph evidence,” and all references to a polygraph examination were redacted before being shown to the jury. Id. at 5-6.