State v. Peralta, ___ N.C. App. ___, 836 S.E.2d 254 (Nov. 5, 2019)

The defendant was convicted by a jury of seven sex crimes against a five-year-old victim, including statutory rape of a child by an adult, statutory sexual offense with a child by an adult, and indecent liberties with a child. At trial, the State presented a nurse practitioner who testified about the medical evaluation given to the victim. The nurse practitioner testified without objection that the victim gave “clear and concise statement[s] regarding child sexual abuse,” and that her own testimony was “based off a complete medical evaluation, not only [the victim’s] statements.” (1) On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed plain error by impermissibly allowing the nurse practitioner to testify to the truth of the victim’s statements to the extent that she offered a conclusive diagnosis without physical evidence. The court rejected the argument, noting first that the witness never actually offered a conclusive diagnosis. To the contrary, she gave testimony relevant to helping the jury understand that a lack of physical evidence in a medical exam did not preclude sexual abuse. Moreover, any error related to the nurse practitioner’s detailed testimony about sexual abuse, including penetration, was deliberately elicited by the defendant on cross-examination. Regardless, the defendant did not demonstrate that the jury would have reached a different result in light of all the other unchallenged evidence. (2) The defendant also argued that the trial judge erred by excluding the testimony from two defense witnesses who allegedly asked the victim’s mother to stop talking about sex in front of children. The court of appeals disagreed, concluding that the proffered testimony—that the victim may have learned explicit language about sexual abuse from her mother and not from her personal experience with abuse—was too speculative and not within the witnesses’ personal knowledge. (3) Finally, the trial court did not err by failing to give a limiting instruction indicating that the nurse practitioner’s statistical testimony could be considered only for corroborative purposes. Reviewing the argument for plain error, the court concluded that the nurse practitioner’s testimony was proper, and that any error would not be prejudicial in any event in light of the collective evidence of guilt.