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State v. Chavis

Supreme Court of South Carolina

February 4, 2015

The State, Respondent,
v.
George L. Chavis, Appellant

Heard October 2, 2013.

Appeal from Marlboro County. Howard P. King, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2011-188568.

AFFIRMED.

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.

PLEICONES, J. BEATTY, J., concurs. TOAL, C.J., concurring in part and dissenting in part in a separate opinion in which KITTREDGE, J., concurs. HEARN, J., dissenting in a separate opinion.

OPINION

Page 337

[412 S.C. 104] PLEICONES, J:

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

Page 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 ...


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