Arizona Supreme Court Allows Sexual Abuse Expert Witness Testimony, Finds Rule 702 Allows General Testimony

Kristin Casler

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— Updated on June 22, 2020


State of Arizona v. Martin David Salazar-Mercado, No. CR-13-0244-PR, Arizona Supreme Court, May 29, 2014


Martin David Salazar-Mercado was convicted in Pima County Superior Court for molesting his cousin’s children. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Sexual Abuse Expert Witness:

Dr. Wendy Dutton, a forensic interviewer, presented expert testimony on behalf of the state regarding sexual abuse accommodation syndrome (CSAAS). The trial court denied Mercado’s motion to exclude the testimony. Therefore, Dutton opined about how child victims perceive sexual abuse and behave regarding it. She also described why children make false allegations of abuse.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the expert’s admission and Mercado’s conviction.

Admissibility of Sexual Abuse Expert Witness:

The Arizona Supreme Court, in an issue of first impression, found that Arizona Rule of Evidence 702 does not preclude admission of “cold” expert testimony that educates the fact finder about general principles without considering the particular facts of the case.

The high court rejected Mercado’s argument that Rule 702(d) requires that an expert, in order to testify, must reliably apply principles and methods to the particular facts of the case. It agreed with the state that Rule 702(d) requires that if the expert applies principles and methods to the facts of the case, the expert must do so reliably.

Hence, the high court said the historical background of Rule 702 and the advisory committee notes of the federal rule permit admission of general “cold” testimony that does not comment on the specific facts of the case.

In this case, Dutton’s testimony might have helped the jury to understand why the children delayed reporting the alleged abuse and why their statements might have been inconsistent, the high court said. Consequently, her testimony was admissible under Rule 702(a), the high court said.

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