Many Paths To Qualify An Expert

Eighth Circuit rejects challenge to expert testimony of a board-certified pediatrician who was the medical director of a child abuse evaluation center and who “regularly examined and evaluated sexually abused children over the past seven years” as unqualified to provide expert testimony describing “the emotional and behavioral characteristics often observed in sexually abused children,” in United States v. Roach, _ F.3d _ (8th Cir. July 14, 2011) (No. 11-1132) (per curiam)

Qualified witnesses may provide expert opinion testimony to assist the jury. FRE 702 provides for expert testimony by “a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” A recent Eighth Circuit case highlights that there are many paths to qualifying as an expert.

In the case, defendant Roach was prosecuted for aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Following his conviction, on appeal he claimed that the trial court permitted an unqualified expert witness “to describe to the jury the emotional and behavioral characteristics often observed in sexually abused children.” Specifically, the defendant argued the board-certified pediatrician:

was not qualified to testify about the emotional and behavioral characteristics of sexually abused children because he lacked formal education or training in child psychology and child psychiatry; rather, his knowledge of ‘child abuse pediatrics’ was derived solely from on-the-job observations and attendance at conferences and seminars.
Roach, _ F.3d at _.


The Eighth Circuit rejected the challenge and concluded that the expert was qualified. The circuit noted that in child sexual abuse cases, “a qualified expert can inform the jury of characteristics in sexually abused children.” Roach, _ F.3d at _ (citing United States v. Whitted, 11 F.3d 782, 785 (8th Cir. 1993) (“In the context of child sexual abuse cases, a qualified expert can inform the jury of characteristics in sexually abused children and describe the characteristics the alleged victim exhibits.”)). As the circuit explained:

Dr. Mailloux is a board-certified pediatrician who has served as Medical Director for Child’s Voice, a child abuse evaluation center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, since 2003. He has regularly examined and evaluated sexually abused children over the past seven years. At trial, Dr. Mailloux testified that in 2010 alone, he personally examined approximately 200 children following allegations of sexual abuse. We conclude there was a sufficient basis for the district court’s conclusion that Dr. Mailloux was qualified to testify about the general characteristics of sexually abused children.
Roach,_ F.3d at _.


The Eighth Circuit noted that “Rule 702 does not rank academic training over demonstrated practical experience.” Roach, _ F.3d at _ (citing United States v. Anderson, 446 F.3d 870, 875 (8th Cir. 2006) (“Rule 702 does not rank academic training over demonstrated practical experience.”); Fox v. Dannenberg, 906 F.2d 1253, 1256 (8th Cir. 1990) (“It is important also to note that Rule 702 ‘does not rank academic training over demonstrated practical experience....’ That is, an individual can qualify as an expert where he possesses sufficient knowledge gained from practical experience, even though he may lack academic qualifications in the particular field of expertise.”) (quoting Circle J Dairy, Inc. v. A.O. Smith Harvestore Products, Inc., 790 F.2d 694, 700 (8th Cir. 1986))).

As the ACN indicate:

The fields of knowledge which may be drawn upon are not limited merely to the "scientific" and "technical" but extend to all "specialized" knowledge. Similarly, the expert is viewed, not in a narrow sense, but as a person qualified by "knowledge, skill, experience, training or education." Thus within the scope of the rule are not only experts in the strictest sense of the word, e.g., physicians, physicists, and architects, but also the large group sometimes called "skilled" witnesses, such as bankers or landowners testifying to land values.
FRE 702 ACN.


The Roach case underscores that there are many paths for qualifying an expert. Experience is certainly one key factor, among others. The absence of other means to qualify as an expert does not bar the expert testimony as long as sufficient qualifications are established.

Federal Rules of Evidence
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