State v. Waugh, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-102 (Apr. 6, 2021)

The defendant was convicted by a jury of one count of rape of a child, one count of indecent liberties with a child, and eight counts of sexual offense with a child, and he received four consecutive sentences. The defendant did not object to the testimony of the state’s expert witness at trial, but argued on appeal that it was plain error to allow the witness to testify that the victim’s symptoms, characteristics, and history were consistent with those of children who have been sexually abused. Under plain error review, the defendant must show that there was a fundamental error at trial, and that error had a probable impact on the jury’s determination that the defendant was guilty. The appellate court held that the defendant failed to make that showing in this case.

Assuming arguendo that allowing the expert’s testimony was error, the defendant failed to show that it had a probable impact on the jury’s findings. The court reviewed in detail the extensive trial testimony from both of the defendant’s daughters describing multiple instances of sexual abuse inflicted on them over a period of many years. The victim’s testimony was corroborated by several other witnesses who investigated the case, heard the victim disclose the abuse, or had an opportunity to counsel, examine, or treat the victim as a result of the abuse. “In light of the overwhelming evidence of Defendant’s guilt,” the court concluded that “even had the challenged testimony not been admitted, the jury probably would not have reached a different result.”