State v. Towe, 366 N.C. 56 (Jun. 14, 2012)

The court modified and affirmed State v. Towe, 210 N.C. App. 430 (Mar. 15, 2011). The court of appeals held that the trial court committed plain error by allowing the State’s medical expert to testify that the child victim was sexually abused when no physical findings supported this conclusion. On direct examination, the expert stated that 70-75% of sexually abused children show no clear physical signs of abuse. When asked whether she would put the victim in that group, the expert responded, “Yes, correct.” The court of appeals concluded that this amounted to impermissible testimony that the victim was sexually abused. The supreme court agreed that it was improper for the expert to testify that the victim fell into the category of children who had been sexually abused when she showed no physical symptoms of such abuse. The supreme court modified the opinion below with respect to its application of the plain error standard, but like the lower court agreed that plain error occurred in this case.