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Girardot v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

June 12, 2014

CHRISTOPHER P. GIRARDOT, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE

Argued November 19, 2013.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CF2-3822-06). (Hon. Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, Trial Judge).

Alice Wang, Public Defender Service, with whom James Klein and Jaclyn Frankfurt, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant.

Stephen F. Rickard, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Amy Zubrensky, and Ann K. H. Simon, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 1108

Fisher, Associate Judge :

Appellant Christopher Girardot argues, for the second time before this court, that he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court excluded expert testimony. We hold that the trial judge did not exercise her discretion erroneously and therefore affirm.

I. Factual Background

During Mr. Girardot's bench trial in 2006, the government relied upon the testimony of two victims, eight-year-old J.B. and ten-year-old C.N.[1] After hearing the evidence, the trial court found appellant guilty of two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-3006 (2001). Prior to trial, appellant had sought to introduce the testimony of Dr. Susan Robbins, " an expert in children's cognitive processes, and the pressures and factors that can prompt a child to make false complaints of sexual abuse." Girardot I, 996 A.2d at 343. We remanded appellant's case for a more thorough inquiry, instructing the trial court to consider all three prongs of the Dyas test for evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony.[2] Girardot I, 996 A.2d at 349.

At an evidentiary hearing held on June 22 and June 23, 2011, Judge Mitchell-Rankin heard more than six hours of testimony and argument concerning Dr. Robbins' qualifications. Dr. Robbins returned to court and gave her substantive testimony on September 26, 2011. The trial court explained: " We're going to proceed as if the issue of qualifications has been resolved to get to the substantive . . . testimony." That testimony, which included direct examination, cross-examination, and redirect, spans 150 pages of transcript.

Page 1109

On February 2, 2012, Judge Mitchell-Rankin issued a twenty-three page order, comprehensively addressing the Dyas factors and again ruling that the testimony would be excluded. The court also stated that " Dr. Robbins' testimony did not provide any information that was helpful in evaluating the statements made by J.B. and C.N." Judge Mitchell-Rankin therefore found, in an alternative ruling, that " the testimony would not lead [her] to reach a different conclusion as to whether the Defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

II. The Dyas Analysis

" Although the admission of expert testimony falls within the discretion of the trial judge, . . . because the right to confront witnesses and to present a defense are constitutionally protected, . . . 'the defense should be free to introduce appropriate expert testimony.'" Benn v. United States, 978 A.2d 1257, 1269 (D.C. 2009) (citations omitted). We will, however, " defer to the trial court's exclusion of expert testimony when it is based on a reasoned and reasonable exercise of discretion[.]" Id. at 1276. " [T]here is an important tradeoff for giving the trial court such latitude: that court must take no shortcuts; it must exercise its discretion with reference to all the necessary criteria." Ibn-Tamas v. United States, 407 A.2d 626, 635 (D.C. 1979) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted). Thus, " the court's determination must be ...


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