State v. Shore, ___ N.C. App. ___, 814 S.E.2d 464 (Apr. 3, 2018)

In this child sexual assault case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing Kelli Wood, an expert in clinical social work specializing in child sexual abuse cases, to testify that it is not uncommon for children to delay disclosure of sexual abuse and to testify to possible reasons for delayed disclosures. At issue was whether the testimony satisfied Rule 702. The defendant did not dispute either Wood’s qualifications or the relevance of her testimony. Rather, he asserted that her testimony did not meet two prongs of the Rule 702 Daubert reliability test. First, he asserted, Wood’s testimony was not based on sufficient facts or data, noting that she had not conducted her own research and instead relied upon studies done by others. The court rejected this argument, finding that it directly conflicted with Rule 702, the Daubert line of cases and the court’s precedent. Among other things, the court noted that as used in the rule, the term “data” is intended to encompass reliable opinions of other experts. Here, Wood’s delayed disclosure testimony was grounded in her 200 hours of training, 11 years of forensic interviewing experience, conducting over 1200 forensic interviews (90% of which focused sex abuse allegations), and reviewing over 20 articles on delayed disclosures. Wood testified about delayed disclosures in general and did not express an opinion as to the alleged victim’s credibility. As such, her testimony “was clearly” based on facts or data sufficient to satisfy the first prong of the reliability test.

               Second, the defendant argued that Wood’s testimony was not the product of reliable principles and methods. Specifically, he asserted that the delayed disclosure research she relied upon was flawed: it assumed the participants were honest; it did not employ methods or protocols to screen out participants who made false allegations; and because there was no indication of how many participants might have lied, it was impossible to know an error rate. The defendant also argued that when Wood provided a list of possible reasons why an alleged victim might delay disclosure, she did not account for the alternative explanation that the abuse did not occur. The court rejected this contention, pointing to specific portions of direct and cross-examination where these issues were addressed and explained. The court found that the defendant failed to demonstrate that his arguments attacking the principles and methods of Wood’s testimony were pertinent in assessing its reliability. It thus held that her testimony was the product of reliable principles and methods sufficient to satisfy the second prong of the reliability analysis.