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Any error in admitting expert testimony in CHIPS case was harmless

State v. Eugene P., 2014AP361, 2014AP362 & 2014AP363, District 1, 9/3/14 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity: 2014AP361; 2014AP362; 2014AP363

Allowing a doctor to testify at a CHIPS trial that the children’s injuries were the result of abuse was harmless because there was overwhelming evidence to support the jury’s verdict.

The state filed CHIPS petitions alleging Eugene’s three children were in need of services because they were victims of abuse, at substantial risk of abuse, and neglected. (¶¶2-3). At the trial on the petitions a physician was allowed to testify that one of the children’s injuries were “diagnostic for severe abuse” and wouldn’t happen “any other way than [from] a severe beating.” (¶¶14-16). Eugene argued this testimony went to far because it amounted to an expert opinion that the abuse happened. (¶18). Even if that’s true, the error was harmless:

20      …. There is no dispute that Dr. Sheets was highly credentialed. Her testimony, that the kind of injuries Jaden received do not happen “any other way than [from] a severe force kind of beating,” was extremely serious in nature. In this case, however, Dr. Sheets’ testimony was merely an echo of a message that the jury had by that point already heard many times before by numerous experienced, well-credentialed sources. … The evidence that Eugene P. abused Jaden and Taron, and that all three boys were at risk for being abused, was overwhelming and compelling even without Dr. Sheets’ testimony. Thus, this court concludes that any error that may have occurred due to the admission of Dr. Sheets’ testimony does not undermine the court’s confidence in the outcome of Eugene P.’s trial, and was therefore harmless. …

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