State v. Chavis, No. 27491.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPLEICONES, J.
Citation412 S.C. 101,771 S.E.2d 336
Docket NumberNo. 27491.
Decision Date04 February 2015
PartiesThe STATE, Respondent, v. George L. CHAVIS, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2011–188568.

412 S.C. 101
771 S.E.2d 336

The STATE, Respondent
v.
George L. CHAVIS, Appellant.


Appellate Case No. 2011–188568.

No. 27491.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard Oct. 2, 2013.
Decided Feb. 4, 2015.

Rehearing Denied May 6, 2015.


771 S.E.2d 337

Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

Opinion

PLEICONES, J.

412 S.C. 104

George Chavis (Appellant) was convicted of multiple crimes involving unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, Appellant's step-daughter (Victim). The issues before the Court concern the qualification and testimony of two child abuse assessment experts. We affirm.

FACTS

Appellant was convicted of one count of criminal sexual conduct with a minor (CSCM) in the first degree, two counts of CSCM in the second degree, one count of lewd act upon a child, and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Appellant was sentenced to twenty-five years on the CSCM first, twenty years on each of the CSCM seconds, fifteen years for the lewd act, and three years for the contributing to the delinquency of a minor with all sentences running concurrently.

Appellant's convictions arose out of unlawful conduct between Appellant and Victim that began when Victim was seven years old. The State presented evidence that Appellant molested Victim, forced her to perform sexual acts on him, and forced her to watch pornography.

In addition to the assaults of Victim, Victim testified that when Victim's stepsister (Stepsister) visited, Appellant would have them both perform sexual acts on him. This testimony was corroborated by Stepsister, who stated that she and Victim were sexually assaulted by Appellant and gave further detailed accounts of her own abuse at the hands of Appellant.1

In 2004, Stepsister reported Appellant's sexual abuse of both her and Victim. At this

771 S.E.2d 338

time, Victim was around ten years old and Stepsister was around fourteen. As a result of Stepsister's disclosure, Stepsister was taken to the Durant Children's Center (Durant Center) in Florence, where a forensic interview was performed by Mrs. Ginger Gist. Stepsister

412 S.C. 105

testified that during the interview Stepsister disclosed that she and Victim had been sexually assaulted by Appellant. In addition to the forensic interview, a medical exam was performed by Dr. Kathy Saunders who testified without objection that Stepsister's results were consistent with sexual activity.

Victim was also taken to the Durant Center in 2004, where a forensic interview was conducted by Mrs. Debbie Elliot. Victim testified that in 2004 she denied being sexually abused to Mrs. Elliot and claimed that Stepsister was lying. Victim was also examined by Dr. Saunders, who testified that the 2004 exam was normal.

Dr. Saunders also testified that a normal exam may be consistent with a history of sexual abuse.2

Victim finally told her mother about Appellant's abuse in 2009. Victim was taken back to the Durant Center, where she was again examined by Dr. Rosa and underwent a forensic interview performed by Mrs. Robin Griggs. Dr. Rosa testified that Victim's exam was consistent with being sexually active. The exam also revealed Victim had chlamydia. At trial, the State presented medical records that Appellant was taking medicine commonly used to treat chlamydia at this time. Finally, Victim informed Dr. Rosa that she was sexually active with her boyfriend at the time.

In addition to Victim and Stepsister, two of Appellant's sisters testified, without objection, to their own experiences of being sexually assaulted by Appellant. They described similar experiences to Victim's and Stepsister's claims of being molested and sexually abused by Appellant in their youth.

In addition to testimonial evidence, photographs were introduced of Victim in only her underwear and other various stages of undress. Victim and her mother testified that Appellant took the pictures.

ISSUES

I. Did the circuit court err in qualifying Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliott as experts in child abuse assessment?

412 S.C. 106
II. If so, was the error harmless?

DISCUSSION

I. Qualification of Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliot

Appellant contends that Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliot should not have been qualified as expert witnesses in the field of child abuse assessment because there was not a sufficient showing of reliability or peer review of their work product. We agree as to Mrs. Elliot. As to Mrs. Griggs, we do not reach the expert issue but find error in the admission of part of her testimony on separate grounds.

The qualification of an expert witness and the admissibility of the expert's testimony are matters within the trial court's sound discretion. State v. Myers, 301 S.C. 251, 391 S.E.2d 551 (1990). A trial court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony will not be reversed absent a prejudicial abuse of discretion. State v. Price, 368 S.C. 494, 498, 629 S.E.2d 363, 365 (2006). An abuse of discretion occurs when the conclusions of the circuit court are either controlled by an error of law or are based on unsupported factual conclusions. State v. Douglas, 369 S.C. 424, 429–30, 632 S.E.2d 845, 848 (2006).

Both parties argue, and we agree, that State v. White should apply in qualifying child abuse assessment experts because their testimony is non-scientific. 382 S.C. 265, 676 S.E.2d 684 (2009). Both Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliot were identified as child abuse assessment experts, they both conducted forensic interviews, and both testified they

771 S.E.2d 339

used the RATAC3 forensic interviewing technique, which this Court has identified as non-scientific. State v. Kromah, 401 S.C. 340, 737 S.E.2d 490 (2013) fn. 4 (“The RATAC style of interviewing is not scientific.”). Accordingly, we will analyze the qualification of Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliot under White.

Under White, two threshold determinations must be made. First, the qualifications of the expert must be sufficient, and second, there must be a determination that the

412 S.C. 107

expert's testimony will be reliable. White, at 273, 676 S.E.2d at 688 (citing Rule 702, SCRE).

Appellant does not argue that the qualifications of Mrs. Elliot or Mrs. Griggs are insufficient. Instead, Appellant's argument focuses on the reliability prong of the White analysis. Appellant contends that the State failed to demonstrate sufficient reliability and peer review for Mrs. Griggs and Mrs. Elliot to be qualified as experts in the field of child abuse assessment. We agree that Mrs. Elliott should not have been qualified as an expert witness but do not address Mrs. Griggs's qualifications due to part of her testimony being inadmissible on other grounds.

A. Mrs. Elliott

Appellant contends the circuit court abused its discretion by improperly qualifying Mrs. Elliot and allowing her to testify concerning a report by Mrs. Gist,4 the forensic interviewer who interviewed Stepsister in 2004 after Stepsister's initial allegations of abuse by Appellant. The testimony survived a hearsay objection because the trial court ruled that as an expert, Mrs. Elliot was allowed to rely on the report under Rule 703 SCRE. Mrs. Elliot testified that in her expert opinion a disclosure of abuse had been made to Mrs. Gist.5

The State argues that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in qualifying Mrs. Elliot as an expert. The State cites to Mrs. Elliot's training, education, knowledge of RATAC protocol, and evidence of her performing over 5000 interviews. The State contends that RATAC protocol is peer reviewed and reliable, and therefore Mrs. Elliot's testimony is reliable.6 While we agree Mrs. Elliot has extensive experience and training, we find that there is insufficient evidence demonstrating Mrs. Elliott's individual reliability.

412 S.C. 108

We agree with Appellant that although Mrs. Elliott was sufficiently trained in RATAC protocol, and that she used RATAC protocol during her interviews, there is simply no evidence that her conclusions or impressions taken from these interviews were accurate. During cross examination, when asked if there was any way to discern what her error rate was, she responded “no.” Her only peer review involved one other interviewer reviewing her work to ensure she was using RATAC protocol. When asked what her quality control procedures were, she responded “I use R[A]TAC protocol every time in the interview room.”

There is no formulaic approach for determining the foundational requirements of qualifications and reliability in non-scientific...

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64 practice notes
  • Mangal v. Warden, Perry Corr. Inst., Civil Action No. 6:18-106-RBH-KFM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • December 18, 2019
    ...other than to mean that Dr. Henderson believed [the victim] was truthful." See Mangal I, 781 S.E.2d at 736-37 (citing State v. Chavis, 771 S.E.2d 336, 340 (S.C. 2015) (finding a child abuse assessment expert's recommendation that the defendant should not be around the victim for any reason ......
  • State v. Reyes, Appellate Case No. 2019-001593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2020
    ...that the child victim was telling the truth and that the child understood the difference between truth and lies); State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 108-09, 771 S.E.2d 336, 340 (2015) (finding a forensic interviewer's testimony recommending that the victim stay away from the appellant improper......
  • State v. Johnson, Appellate Case No. 2014-001219
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 30, 2018
    ...we conclude the introduction of the photographs could not have reasonably affected the outcome of the trial. See State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 115, 771 S.E.2d 336, 343 (2015) ("Error is harmless when it could not reasonably have affected the result of the trial.").422 S.C. 449II. Skype Te......
  • State v. Warner, Appellate Case No. 2017-001313
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 8, 2020
    ...precisely that. Our supreme court has emphasized the importance of empirical verification to reliability. See, e.g. , State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 108, 771 S.E.2d 336, 339 (2015) ("[E]vidence of mere procedural consistency does not ensure reliability without some evidence demonstrating t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 cases
  • Mangal v. Warden, Perry Corr. Inst., Civil Action No. 6:18-106-RBH-KFM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • December 18, 2019
    ...other than to mean that Dr. Henderson believed [the victim] was truthful." See Mangal I, 781 S.E.2d at 736-37 (citing State v. Chavis, 771 S.E.2d 336, 340 (S.C. 2015) (finding a child abuse assessment expert's recommendation that the defendant should not be around the victim for any reason ......
  • State v. Reyes, Appellate Case No. 2019-001593
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 16, 2020
    ...that the child victim was telling the truth and that the child understood the difference between truth and lies); State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 108-09, 771 S.E.2d 336, 340 (2015) (finding a forensic interviewer's testimony recommending that the victim stay away from the appellant improper......
  • State v. Johnson, Appellate Case No. 2014-001219
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 30, 2018
    ...we conclude the introduction of the photographs could not have reasonably affected the outcome of the trial. See State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 115, 771 S.E.2d 336, 343 (2015) ("Error is harmless when it could not reasonably have affected the result of the trial.").422 S.C. 449II. Skype Te......
  • State v. Warner, Appellate Case No. 2017-001313
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • April 8, 2020
    ...precisely that. Our supreme court has emphasized the importance of empirical verification to reliability. See, e.g. , State v. Chavis , 412 S.C. 101, 108, 771 S.E.2d 336, 339 (2015) ("[E]vidence of mere procedural consistency does not ensure reliability without some evidence demonstrating t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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