Allowed Child Abuse Expert Witness Testimony Confirmed By Appeals Court

Expert witness called to testify in criminal prostitution case is allowed by federal district court.  Appeals court confirms.

Facts: This case (US v. Kevin Fuertes – United States Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit – August 18th, 2015) involves the arrest and prosecution of two individuals (Fuertes and Ventura) who purportedly operated hostels in Maryland and Virginia.  In addition to being arrested for running places of prostitution, they were charged with the possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.  Professionals who testify as child sexual abuse expert witnesses will be interested in the outcome of this case.

Defendants Fuertes and Ventura were prosecuted and found guilty of numerous federal crimes related to prostitution, sex trafficking, and possession and use of a firearm.  They were convicted of most of these charges.  In particular, a woman employed by Ventura, Rebecca Duenas Franco (“Duenas”) was forced into the engagement of prostitution  by threats of violence and actual violence.  In addition, she was held against her will by Ventura.  She was beaten and pushed several times when she resisted to perform sex with the clients of the brothel.  Ventura also fired a gun while in her presence.

During the trial period of the case, the plaintiff’s called Dr. Mary-Theresa Baker, who testified on her examination of Duenas.  She testified that Duenas’ explanations of how she received her injuries were consistent with her observations at examination.  The defense moved to exclude the testimony of Dr. Baker on the numerous grounds, which the district court denied.

Discussion: Fuertas and Ventura argue that the testimony of Dr. Baker should have been excluded because 1) her experience and training were mostly with juveniles, not adults and 2) she did not provide an expert opinion; her testimony was an attempt to bolster the credibility of Duenas regarding the source of her injuries.

The appeals court looked at both of these issues and found them to be without merit.  First, they state that Dr. Baker has a vast knowledge, skill, and training in her twenty-five years as a physician and the director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.  She has performed over 3,000 examinations on individuals where there was a possible past injury.  During these examinations, she focuses on cutaneous injuries.  She has also trained her staff on performing forensic examinations.  Last, she has, on more than two dozen instances, been qualify to testify as an expert in cases.

The defendant’s move to exclude her testimony, stating that her experience has been mostly with individuals.  Dr. Baker explained that there is no difference between children and adults when looking at cutaneous injuries.  That said, the plaintiff’s arguments go to the weight of her testimony, not its admissibility.

With regard to plaintiff’s argument that Dr. Baker’s opinion was only as to whether Duenas was telling the truth, the appeals court dismissed this as well.  Dr. Baker did not opine on Duenas’ credibility or offer her testimony on how she obtained her injuries.  Her opinion was present to assist the jury on whether or not there were marks on Duenas to show that she had been physically assaulted.  Dr. Baker’s testimony may have corroborated Duenas’ testimony on how she sustained the injuries, it is not a reason for exclusion.

Held: The district court’s admission of Dr. Baker’s expert testimony was not erroneous or an abuse of it’s discretion.