State v. Steen, ___ N.C. App. ___, 826 S.E.2d 478 (Mar. 19, 2019)

rev’d on other grounds, ___ N.C. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec. 18, 2020)

In this case involving convictions of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and armed robbery, the trial court did not err by prohibiting a defense expert from testifying concerning the impact of specific leading questions asked by law enforcement officers during their interviews with one of the victims. The defendant offered testimony from Dr. George Corvin, an expert in general and forensic psychiatry regarding “confabulation.” On voir dire, Corvin defined confabulation as the spontaneous production of false memories or distorted memories in patients who have sustained closed head injuries or other medical trauma resulting in periods of amnesia. He further explained that “induced confabulation” can occur where a person in a position of authority or trust tells or implies to an individual suffering from amnesia what actually occurred during a period of time for which the individual has no genuine memories. The trial court ruled that Corvin would be permitted to testify generally about “those who are susceptible and the risk factors for confabulation,” but could not testify to whether specific questions that officers asked the victim could have caused confabulation to actually occur. Corvin subsequently testified before the jury, defining confabulation and explaining the manner in which it could affect the memories of persons afflicted with periods of amnesia following a traumatic injury. He further testified that based on his review of the victim’s medical records, a risk of confabulation existed due to the nature and location of the traumatic brain injury that she suffered as a result of the attack. He also explained the concept of induced confabulation. Although the trial court prohibited him from testifying as to the relationship between any specific questions that officers asked the victim and the potential for confabulation to have occurred regarding her identification of the defendant as her attacker, counsel did make statements about this during his closing arguments. The court determined that assuming arguendo that the limitation on Corvin’s testimony was error, it did not constitute reversible error. As noted, Corvin defined the concept of induced confabulation for the jury and explained why the victim’s injury placed her at risk for creating memories that were not genuine. Furthermore, in his closing argument defense counsel made clear to the jury the defendant’s theory that the manner in which the victim was questioned by officers caused her to create false memories of the attack. Thus, the jurors were expressly given the opportunity consider the possibility that the victim’s identification of the defendant was the result of confabulation and therefore the defendant failed to show any reasonable possibility that a different result would have been reached had Corvin been permitted to testify without restriction.