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State v. Barrett

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 23, 2016

The State, Respondent,
v.
Gerald Barrett, Jr., Appellant

         Heard November 10, 2015.

          Appeal From Beaufort County. Kristi Lea Harrington, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2013-002158.

         Appellate Defender David Alexander, of Columbia, for Appellant.

         Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Attorney General William M. Blitch, Jr., both of Columbia; and Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone, III, of Bluffton, for Respondent.

         GEATHERS, J. SHORT and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

         GEATHERS, J.

         Gerald Barrett appeals his conviction for a lewd act upon a minor, arguing the trial court erred in (1) qualifying Kendra Twitty as an expert " mental health professional, specifically in the area of child sexual abuse characteristics," and (2) failing to grant a continuance for him to obtain an expert to dispute her testimony. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A grand jury indicted Barrett for criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, lewd act upon a minor, and kidnapping for acts he allegedly committed upon Victim. Barrett proceeded to trial and immediately before a Monday morning pretrial motions hearing, he moved for a continuance to obtain an expert in Child Sexual Assault Accommodation Syndrome, arguing the State did not disclose its intention to introduce evidence regarding Child Sexual Assault Accommodation Syndrome until the prior Thursday. The trial court denied the motion because Twitty was previously named as the forensic interviewer assigned to this case. Barrett also moved to prohibit the qualification of Twitty as an expert, use of the term " forensic interviewer," and Twitty's testimony in its entirety, arguing the testimony would amount to vouching or bolstering Victim's testimony. The trial court withheld ruling until after hearing testimony from Victim.

         After Victim's testimony, outside the presence of the jury, the State sought to qualify Twitty as an " expert regarding the behavior of and trauma of child sexual abuse victims." The State offered to avoid using the term " Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome" as it believed avoiding the term would alleviate any potential confusion by the jury. After additional arguments, the State explained it did not intend to offer her as an expert regarding the syndrome; instead, it sought to offer her as an expert " practitioner of mental health specifically dealing with children [victimized by] child sexual assault." Over Barrett's objection, the trial court ruled Twitty could discuss general behavioral evidence regarding delayed disclosure. The State noted it would first question Twitty regarding the Kromah [1] factors for Victim's forensic interview, and then it would seek to qualify Twitty as a mental health expert and offer her expert testimony.

         In the presence of the jury, Twitty testified she was a forensic interviewer and counselor/therapist at a children's advocacy and rape crisis center. She described the forensic interview she conducted with Victim. She also summarized her education, training, and experience in the mental health field. The State sought to admit her as an expert " mental health professional working with victims of child sexual abuse and trauma." Barrett objected and proceeded to voir dire. Following voir dire, Barrett again objected to Twitty's qualification. Ultimately, the trial court qualified her as an expert " mental health professional, specifically in the area of child sexual abuse characteristics."

         A jury found Barrett guilty of a lewd act upon a minor. The jury found Barrett not guilty of kidnapping and was unable to reach a unanimous decision as to the CSC with a minor charge. The trial court sentenced him to twelve years' imprisonment, suspended upon nine years' imprisonment and four years' probation. The trial court also subjected him to mandatory GPS monitoring, required him to complete a sexual offender treatment program, and placed him on the sex offender registry. This appeal followed.

         ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Did the trial court err in qualifying an expert witness and ...

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