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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:At Richard Vela’s trial for three counts of sexual assault and one count of aggravated assault, the state called Sonia Eddleman, the sexual assault nurse examiner who examined the victim after the rape. Eddleman stated that the exam revealed no injuries to the victim’s mouth or genitals but that there was an oozing tear in the victim’s anus and bruising on her body. Based on her examination, Eddleman claimed the victim had been sexually assaulted. Vela later called Cheryl Hartzendorf, a certified legal nurse consultant, and the state requested a hearing outside the jury’s presence. Before trial, Hartzendorf had reviewed the victim’s hospital records and the Department of Public Safety lab report containing the results of Eddleman’s exam. Hartzendorf intended to testify that, in her opinion, because there was no DNA or physical evidence linking Vela to the alleged rape, no sexual assault occurred. She further stated that her opinion was based on her general nursing experience and that she had not written, nor was aware of, any published articles supporting that theory. The trial judge allowed the state to recall Eddleman to rebut Hartzendorf’s testimony. The state then challenged Hartzendorf’s credentials and methodology, and the trial judge sustained the state’s objection and refused to allow Hartzendorf’s testimony. The jury later acquitted Vela on two of the sexual-assault counts but convicted him of the sexual assault alleged in count three and the aggravated assault charge. Contradicting the trial court, the 13th Court of Appeals determined that Hartzendorf was in fact a qualified expert witness. After performing a harm analysis, the 13th Court found that her testimony, if it had been admitted, could have had a significant effect on the outcome of the Vela’s trial. Asserting that the trial judge, in excluding Hartzendorf’s testimony, acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles, the 13th Court held that the trial judge abused his discretion in excluding Hartzendorf’s testimony. As a result, the 13th Court reversed Vela’s sexual assault conviction but affirmed the aggravated assault conviction, because Hartzendorf did not intend to testify about the alleged choking of the victim. The Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) granted review to determine whether the 13th Court erred in holding that the trial judge abused his discretion in not permitting an expert witness’ testimony to the effect that where there is no physical evidence, there is no rape. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded to the 13th Court. A trial judge, the CCA stated, to make three separate inquiries before admitting expert testimony, including that: 1. The witness qualifies as an expert by reason of his knowledge, skill, experience, training or education; 2. The subject matter of the testimony is an appropriate one for expert testimony; and 3. Admitting the expert testimony will actually assist the fact-finder in deciding the case. These conditions are commonly referred to as qualification, reliability and relevance. The 13th Court, the CCA stated, failed to do an adequate inquiry into Hartzendorf’s qualifications to testify about physical evidence of rape. Rather, the CCA stated, the 13th Court simply referenced Hartzendorf’s education and experience as a nurse and deemed that general background sufficient to qualify her as an expert witness. The 13th Court made no meaningful inquiry into Hartzendorf’s qualifications in that specific area of expertise, the CCA stated. Furthermore, the CCA stated, the 13th Court claimed that medical testimony in sexual assault cases is well established as reliable scientific evidence. The 13th Court, therefore, failed to make any inquiry into the reliability of Hartzendorf’s theory, the CCA stated. Because the 13th Court improperly evaluated Hartzendorf’s qualifications, failed to evaluate the reliability of her proposed testimony and failed to give proper deference to the trial judge, the CCA vacated the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the 13th Court to redo its analysis. Finally, the CCA noted that the trial court acted in its proper role as gatekeeper in finding Hartzendorf’s scientific theory unreliable and refusing to admit her testimony. The 13th Court did not give proper deference to the trial judge’s ruling, the CCA found. OPINION:Keasler, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous court. CONCURRENCE:Cochran, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Johnson, J., joined. “I join the majority opinion. I add these comments only to emphasize that when an expert offers an opinion which is so outside the general mainstream of a particular scientific field as to be extraordinary, the proponent of that expertise must provide a greater-than-usual foundation for its reliability.”

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