Goodson v. State, 07-KA-58650

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation566 So.2d 1142
Docket NumberNo. 07-KA-58650,07-KA-58650
PartiesRichard Dale GOODSON v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date11 July 1990

Page 1142

566 So.2d 1142
Richard Dale GOODSON
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 07-KA-58650.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
July 11, 1990.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 22, 1990.

Page 1143

Duncan Lott, Booneville, for appellant.

Edwin Lloyd Pittman, Atty. Gen., elected Supreme Court Justice Jan. 3, 1989, Mike C. Moore, Atty. Gen., and George W. Neville and Pat Flynn, Sp. Asst. Attys. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.

En banc.

ROBERTSON, Justice for the Court:


Today's appeal charges once again that we vindicate the right of one accused of child sexual abuse to a fair trial according to accepted rules of evidence, while at once shielding the complainant from undue additional trauma, nor undermining the people's powerful interest in persistent prosecution of abusers. All of this we may seek only according to law. Because the trial court allowed the jury to hear an inadmissible expert opinion, we reverse and remand for a new trial.


Richard Dale Goodson was born on August 15, 1939, and most recently has worked in Alabama. Goodson was the defendant below and is the appellant here.

Sonya T. 1 was born on January 24, 1972, and is Goodson's niece. Between the years when she was six and ten years old Sonya's family lived in Tishomingo County. During that time she says Goodson occasionally fondled her and raped her. Four years after the last incident, Sonya told her mother that she had been "abused and molested."

Sonya's parents have been married for seventeen years and have two girls, Sonya and a sister, three years younger. The family moved to Iuka in 1976 and left in 1982, then moving among several different northern states, coming back to live in Iuka from January until April, 1986. On February 8, 1986, Sonya told her mother of the alleged incidents with her uncle.

This criminal prosecution was formally commenced in April of 1986 when the Tishomingo County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Goodson with forcible rape of a female under fourteen years of age. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 97-3-65(1) (Supp.1989). The case was called for trial on April 17, 1987. Witnesses for the prosecution included the victim, her mother, and Dr. Linda Chidester who is engaged in the practice of medicine in Mantachie, Mississippi. Goodson took the witness stand in his own defense and denied all charges.

In due course, the jury found Goodson guilty of rape but was unable to fix the penalty. On the same day, April 17, 1987, the Circuit Court sentenced Goodson to serve a term of twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. This appeal has followed.


Goodson first challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence against him. He suggests the Circuit Court erred when it denied his motion for a directed verdict of acquittal and, thereafter, his motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict of the jury.

The Circuit Court properly denied these motions.

Page 1144

In passing on motions for directed verdicts and requests for peremptory instructions of not guilty, all evidence on behalf of the State is taken as true, together with reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, and, if there is sufficient evidence to support a verdict of guilty, the motion for directed verdict must be overruled and peremptory instruction must be denied. Barker v. State, 463 So.2d 1080 (Miss.1985); Shelton v. State, 445 So.2d 844 (Miss.1984); Wilks v. State, 408 So.2d 68 (Miss.1981); Bayse v. State, 420 So.2d 1050 (Miss.1982).

Gill v. State, 485 So.2d 1047, 1049 (Miss.1986); see also McKinney v. State, 521 So.2d 898, 899 (Miss.1988); McFee v. State, 511 So.2d 130, 133-34 (Miss.1987); Christian v. State, 456 So.2d 729, 734-35 (Miss.1984); Otis v. State, 418 So.2d 65, 67 (Miss.1982), Davis v. State, 406 So.2d 795, 801 (Miss.1981). The same standard applies when we review a denial of an accused's post-verdict motion for judgment of acquittal. Faithful application of that standard yields affirmance on this issue.



Goodson next argues that the Circuit Court erred when it overruled his objection to Dr. Linda Chidester's opinion testimony that Sonya had suffered sexual trauma. The opinion was given during the prosecuting attorney's direct examination of Dr. Chidester. Context is important.

Q. Was there anything unusual about Sonya's behavior or disposition that you noticed when you did the examination?

A. Yes, she was [objection raised by defense] ... She was extremely upset and frightened by the pelvic exam. She was crying. She did not want me to do the exam. When she first came, she said that she was not going to let me examine her. And then after talking to her and finally in the end just by being professional and saying, 'Sonya, get undressed, put the sheet over you, put on the gown, I will be back in a moment'; and, walking out of the room and closing the door, then she did what I told her to do.

Q. Dr. Chidester, do you examine many girls and young women like Sonya in your practice?

A. I examine a good many young girls in my practice, yes.

Q. As compared to these others, would you call her behavior unusual?

A. Extremely unusual, yes.

Q. All right. Does this indicate anything to you as a doctor, or do you have an opinion based upon your experience as a doctor, and in the area of gynecology, and based upon reasonable medical certainty, is this indicative of anything to you.

There was an objection by defense and the judge allowed Dr. Chidester to answer on the basis that she qualified as an expert.

A. I think it indicates that she had been sexually traumatized in some way.

Up to and including Dr. Chidester's opinion testimony that Sonya's reaction was "extremely unusual," we perceive no error. Such opinion testimony is wholly admissible by virtue of Rules 702 and 703, Miss.R.Ev. The problem arises in Dr. Chidester's subsequent opinion, presented over Goodson's objection, that Sonya "had been sexually traumatized." The point is of importance, for Dr. Chidester's opinion, together with another item of evidence discussed below, goes far toward establishing the corpus delicti.


Dr. Chidester is a practicing physician. She is not qualified as psychiatrist or psychologist. Dr. Chidester gave no evidence of any specialized training in the field of child sexual abuse. 2 Prior to expression of

Page 1145

the opinion in issue, Dr. Chidester had stated only that "I examine a good many young girls in my practice." Less than prudent cross-examination elicited an "I have had a tremendous amount of experience in child sexual abuse," but no details are provided.

Our rules regarding admission of expert opinion testimony are found in Rules 702 and 703, Miss.R.Ev. 3 Like rules are in force in most jurisdictions, and in this context we begin by noting the counsel of a thoughtful and comprehensive interdisciplinary commentary.

Courts should proceed cautiously when considering the admissibility of expert testimony on child sexual abuse. It is vitally important that professionals offering such testimony be highly qualified. Courts should insist on a thorough showing of expertise before permitting individuals to testify as experts.

Myers, et al., supra, 68 Neb.L.Rev. at 145.

This counsel of caution is by no means limited to child sex abuse cases. "Generally, under our new Rules of Evidence, the decision of whether or not an expert witness is qualified to testify is within the trial court's [sound] discretion." May v. State, 524 So.2d 957, 963 (Miss.1988) (citing De troit Marine Engineering v. McRee, 510 So.2d 462, 467 (Miss.1987); Hooten v. State, 492 So.2d 948 (Miss.1986)). "The test is whether a witness 'possesses peculiar knowledge or information regarding the relevant subject matter which is not likely to be possessed by a layman.' " May, 524 So.2d at 963 (citing McRee, 510 So.2d at 467; Henry v. State, 484 So.2d 1012, 1015 (Miss.1986)). May makes clear that Rule 702 "does not relax the traditional standards for determining that the witness is indeed qualified to speak an opinion on a matter within his purported field of knowledge." May, 524 So.2d at 963.

Of significance, the prosecution in its brief on appeal makes no effort to defend Dr. Chidester's qualifications as an expert. To the contrary, the prosecution argues only that the contested opinion was admissible as a lay opinion, presumably under Rule 701, Miss.R.Ev. No doubt there are occasions when one who by profession possesses expertise may properly offer a lay opinion. Here Dr. Chidester was proceeding in her professional capacity. The record falls far short of establishing that Dr. Chidester had the professional competence to give the opinion at issue with the

Page 1146

level of reliability our law demands of evidence offered at trial. 4


There is a second, more fundamental problem. Assuming arguendo that Dr. Chidester may be qualified as an expert in the field of child sexual abuse, there remains the serious question whether the particular opinion at issue--that Sonya "had been sexually traumatized"--was admissible.

Affirmative answers to two interrelated but separate questions must precede the factfinder's receipt of an expert's opinion: (1) "Is the field of expertise one in which it has been scientifically established that due investigation and study in conformity with techniques and practices generally accepted within the field will produce a valid opinion?" 5 Miss. Farm Bureau Ins. Co. v. Garrett, 487 So.2d 1320, 1326 (Miss.1986); Handy v. Brantley, 471 So.2d 358, 366 (Miss.1985); House v. State, 445 So.2d 815, 822 (Miss.1984); see also, May, 524 So.2d at 963; and (2) will the proposed testimony assist the trier of fact? Rule 702, Miss.R.Ev.; Hosford v. State, 560 So.2d 163, 168 (Miss.1990).

Though her language is loose, Dr. Chidester offered her opinion that Sonya was a sexually abused child. This is of concern, as it is doubtful that there is any such thing as a scientifically established child sexual abuse profile, a doubt we expressed...

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