North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

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Who Can Call Coaching in Child Sexual Abuse Cases?

March 27, 2014

92 N.C. L. Rev. Addendum 101 (2014)

 

It is well-settled law in North Carolina that expert testimony on the credibility of an alleged child victim in a sexual abuse case is inadmissible. The question of what constitutes testimony on a child's credibility, however, is still unsettled. Recently, in State v. Ryan, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that an expert's testimony on direct examination that an alleged child victim showed no indications of being coached was not testimony on the child's credibility and was therefore admissible.

 

In support of its decision, the court of appeals cited the Supreme Court of North Carolina's ambiguous holding in State v. Baymon. In Baymon, an expert testified on redirect examination that an alleged child victim showed no indications of being coached." Though apparently recognizing that "a statement that a child was not coached is not a statement on the child's truthfulness," the supreme court held that relevant portions of the defense's cross-examination of the expert rendered the expert's coaching testimony admissible. The court's subsequent elaboration on the "opening the door" principle further suggested that absent the defense's cross-examination, the expert's coaching testimony would have remained inadmissible. Yet the supreme court failed to explain or even hint at the reason for its inadmissibility. This vagueness seems to have paved the way for the Ryan court's interpretation-or misinterpretation-of Baymon as allowing expert coaching testimony even when the door was not opened on cross-examination. 

 

This Recent Development argues that the Ryan court was at least half right. An expert's testimony on whether a child has been coached should not be considered testimony on the child's credibility. However, there may still be other obstacles to the admissibility of expert coaching testimony-obstacles that could be overcome only by opposing counsel opening the door to coaching on cross-examination. 

 

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