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Arizona Supreme Court Approves “Cold” Expert Testimony

June 2, 2014

On Thursday, May 29th, the Arizona Supreme Court approved “cold” testimony from experts. This means that “juries are entitled to hear from an expert witness on a particular type of crime even if that [expert] knows nothing about the specific victims in the case”. This marks the first time that Arizona will allow expert witnesses to opine on a case and give their views of general principles without knowing exact facts about the case.

The Arizona Supreme Court, on Thursday, also refused to overturn Martin Salazar-Mercado’s convictions on multiple counts of child abuse. Martin was indicted in 2011 on charges of child molestation and during his trial, his attorney stopped a forensic interviewer from testifying about child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome. The idea was to try and explain the mental state and behavior of a child who has been abused; this includes “delayed reporting of the abuse to a relative, trouble pinpointed when events occurred, and even one victim changing her version of events between the time of reporting and trial.” Although the experts do not have specific details on the case, their testimony can help the jury better understand the evidence and, in this case, could have “helped the jury to understand possible reasons for the delayed and inconsistent reporting”. However, it is important to note that the expert is limited to general principles of behavioral or social science and it may not apply to all cases. The judge will need to play “gatekeeper” and decide whether the expert’s testimony may be admissible.

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