This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Inez E. Lockhart,
Filed June 29, 2004
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K8-02-1613
Ira W. Whitlock, Whitlock Law Office, 906 Minnesota Building, 46 East Fourth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark N. Lystig, Assistant County Attorney, Ramsey County Government Center, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102-1657 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Presiding; Kalitowski, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
Appellant challenges her conviction of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, arguing that the district court erred by (1) denying her Batson challenge and permitting the state to exercise a peremptory strike against an African American prospective juror; (2) excluding expert testimony on the likelihood that the victim was untruthful; and (3) finding sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. We affirm.
Appellant Inez Lockhart’s conviction arises out of the sexual abuse of her son, D.K. In March 2001, D.K. moved out of his mother’s home in St. Paul and began living with his father in Tulsa, Oklahoma. D.K. subsequently disclosed to his father that D.K. and Lockhart had sexual intercourse in June or July 2000, when D.K. was 12 years old. When confronted by D.K.’s father during a telephone conversation in June or July 2001, Lockhart admitted the allegation. As a result, D.K.’s father took D.K. to the Tulsa Police Department. The ensuing investigation was referred to Detective Gerald Atchley, a specialist in sex abuse crimes. In late September or early October 2001, Atchley interviewed D.K. During the interview, D.K. gave an account of the abuse that was consistent with that given at trial. Lockhart subsequently was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(g) (2000).
Jury selection for the trial began on January 21, 2003. Two of the prospective jurors were African American. During voir dire, only one of these prospective jurors was questioned. This prospective juror was on probation for a domestic assault offense, and his brother had a significant history of drug offenses. The prospective juror also expressed some reservations about sitting as a juror, stating that “only God can judge.” But he added that he could participate and reach a fair and balanced decision.
After questioning, the state moved to strike the prospective juror for cause. When the district court denied the motion, the state exercised one of its peremptory strikes. Contending that this strike was impermissibly based on the prospective juror’s race, Lockhart brought a Batson challenge.
After finding a prima facie case of racial discrimination, the district court allowed the challenge to proceed. During the Batson hearing, the state offered several race-neutral reasons for the strike, which included that the prospective juror was on probation and that his brother had a long history of convictions of crimes that were prosecuted by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the same prosecuting authority representing the state in the instant case. The state also noted the prospective juror’s reservations about sitting in judgment. The district court accepted the state’s rationale, denied the Batson challenge, and permitted the peremptory strike to stand.
On the first day of jury selection, Lockhart brought a motion in limine to introduce testimony from Dr. Peter D. Marston, a psychologist. Marston’s proposed testimony was based solely on his evaluation of a videotaped interview of D.K. conducted by Atchley. In his proposed testimony, Marston observed that D.K.’s allegations had “very little” context, as D.K. could not identify the “season, date or day” the abuse occurred and did not describe the events leading up to the sexual encounter. Marston concluded that “[w]ithout these situational and contextual pieces of information, it becomes difficult to distinguish [D.K.’s] allegation from what could be a false allegation.” The district court denied Lockhart’s motion, finding that Marston’s testimony would not be helpful to the jury and would potentially confuse the issue of credibility. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
We review a Batson challenge for clear error, and we affirm unless the district court’s ruling is not supported by the record or the applicable law. State v. Reiners, 664 N.W.2d 826, 830-31, 834 n.3 (Minn. 2003). The Equal Protection Clauses of the United States and Minnesota constitutions bar any party from exercising a peremptory strike on the basis of a prospective juror’s race. Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 86, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 1717 (1986); State v. Taylor, 650 N.W.2d 190, 201 & n.7 (Minn. 2002). Batson established a three-step process to determine whether a peremptory strike has been used to discriminate on the basis of race. Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98, 106 S. Ct. at 1723. The opponent of the strike must make a prima facie case showing that a peremptory strike was used to remove a member of a racial minority. Reiners, 664 N.W.2d at 831. The burden then shifts to the proponent of the strike to offer a race-neutral explanation for the strike. Id. If a race-neutral explanation is given, the district court considers the parties’ arguments and decides whether the opponent of the strike has proved that purposeful racial discrimination has occurred. Id.
Unless discrimination is inherent in the proponent’s explanation for the strike, lack of discriminatory intent is presumed. State v. McDonough, 631 N.W.2d 373, 385 (Minn. 2001). The district court is not required to decide whether the explanation is “persuasive, or even plausible.” Reiners, 664 N.W.2d at 832 (quoting Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767-68, 115 S. Ct. 1769, 1771 (1995)). Thus, to prevail after a race-neutral explanation has been advanced in the second step of the process, the proponent of the Batson challenge must meet its burden of proving purposeful discrimination. McDonough, 631 N.W.2d at 385.
A prospective juror’s interaction with the criminal justice system has been recognized as a permissible race-neutral basis for a peremptory strike. State v. James, 638 N.W.2d 205, 209-10 (Minn. App. 2002); see also Reiners, 664 N.W.2d at 832 (finding legitimate race-neutral grounds for strike based upon prospective juror’s “significant exposure to law enforcement”). Similarly, a peremptory strike may be based on investigations or convictions of a prospective juror’s close family members. State v. Martin, 614 N.W.2d 214, 222-23 (Minn. 2000); State v. Stewart, 514 N.W.2d 559, 563 (Minn. 1994); State v. Scott, 493 N.W.2d 546, 549 (Minn. 1992).
Another common race-neutral factor is a prospective juror’s reluctance to sit in judgment of another. Taylor, 650 N.W.2d at 201; State v. Johnson, 616 N.W.2d 720, 725-26 (Minn. 2000). It is immaterial whether this reluctance arises out of the prospective juror’s religious convictions, provided that the prospective juror’s religious affiliation is not the sole reason for the strike. State v. Davis, 504 N.W.2d 767, 772 (Minn. 1993).
Here, the district court properly followed the Batson procedure. After Lockhart made a prima facie case establishing that the state used the peremptory strike to remove an African American from the jury, the state offered well-established race-neutral reasons for the strike—the involvement of the prospective juror and his brother in the criminal justice system, and the prospective juror’s reluctance to sit in judgment of another. The district court then considered whether the state’s reasons were pretextual or applied in a discriminatory manner. Notwithstanding her arguments, Lockhart failed to demonstrate that the state applied the race-neutral reasons to strike the African American prospective juror while declining to strike a similarly situated prospective juror of a different race. Our careful review of the record establishes that the district court’s decision to deny the Batson challenge was well-founded.
The district court’s exclusion of expert testimony is an evidentiary ruling, which we review for an abuse of discretion. State v. Wolf, 605 N.W.2d 381, 384 (Minn. 2000)
The admissibility of an expert’s testimony is governed by Minn. R. Evid. 702, which provides “[i]f scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, expertise, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” When applying this rule, the district court determines whether the expert’s testimony will assist jurors to understand a subject otherwise outside their experience. State v. Pirsig, 670 N.W.2d 610, 616 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 2004). The district court, in its discretion, may exclude evidence that is irrelevant, confusing, or otherwise unhelpful. State v. Miles, 585 N.W.2d 368, 371 (Minn. 1998).
Expert testimony on the credibility of a witness is ordinarily disallowed. This principle preserves the jury’s power to make credibility determinations, State v. Saldana, 324 N.W.2d 227, 231 (Minn. 1982), and prevents an expert from giving “scientific legitimacy” to another witness’s testimony, State v. Brovold, 477 N.W.2d 775, 780 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Jan. 17, 1992). But in child sex abuse cases, special considerations lessen the force of this principle.
In State v. Myers, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that expert testimony on the characteristics of sexually abused children was admissible, even though this testimony could influence a jury’s determination of a child victim’s credibility. 359 N.W.2d 604, 610 (Minn. 1984). The Myers court concluded that such testimony was helpful for evaluating “the puzzling aspects of the child’s conduct and demeanor.” Id. Subsequent cases have held that expert testimony on the characteristics of sexually abused children was most helpful to explain incomplete or delayed reporting of the offense by the victim. See Brovold, 477 N.W.2d at 780; State v. Davis, 422 N.W.2d 296, 299 (Minn. App. 1988); State v. Garden, 404 N.W.2d 912, 914-15 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. June 25, 1987).
Although Myers gives the district court discretion to admit expert testimony on the characteristics of child sex abuse victims, this testimony is not always admissible. The district court retains the discretion to exclude this testimony. State v. Hall, 406 N.W.2d 503, 505 (Minn. 1987). In exercising its discretion in determining the admissibility of such evidence, the district court must weigh the risk that the expert may improperly influence the jury’s determination of credibility. Cf. In re Welfare of K.A.S., 585 N.W.2d 71, 76 (Minn. App. 1998) (finding “close issue” whether expert testimony regarding child sex abuse victims was proper). For example, the helpfulness of expert testimony may be reduced in cases where the victim is a teenager. See Hall, 406 N.W.2d at 505.
Expert testimony that directly attacks or bolsters a victim’s testimony, rather than providing the jurors with helpful information for evaluating testimony, is less likely to be admissible. Thus, an expert cannot testify on the statistical likelihood of fabrication by child sex abuse victims. State v. Oslund, 469 N.W.2d 489, 495 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991). Where a defendant presented an expert’s theory of “learned memory” and “malicious suggestion” to discredit a child sex abuse victim’s testimony, it was well within the district court’s discretion to exclude the theory because of “the potential for unduly influencing the jury’s credibility assessment.” State v. Erickson, 454 N.W.2d 624, 627-28 (Minn. App. 1990).
Lockhart argues that expert testimony was necessary to evaluate the credibility of D.K.’s allegations. She further argues that, when the district court excluded this testimony, it violated her constitutional right to present a defense. This right, though important, does not negate the requirement that her defense be undertaken in accordance with the rules of evidence. Wolf, 605 N.W.2d at 384.
The district court had no affirmative obligation to admit the proposed expert testimony. Under Rule 702, the district court’s primary consideration is whether the testimony would be helpful to the jury. The testimony at issue here would have directly challenged the credibility of D.K.’s allegations without providing any special tools that jurors might use to evaluate D.K.’s testimony. The district court found that the proposed testimony was not helpful and potentially confusing. In light of the nature of the proposed testimony, we hold that the district court’s decision to exclude this testimony was not an abuse of discretion.
review of a claim of insufficient evidence is limited to a careful analysis of
the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most
favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the jurors to reach a
guilty verdict. State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). We assume that the jury believed the
supports the conviction and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary. State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989). We will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, reasonably could conclude that the defendant was guilty of the charged offense. State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).
Lockhart’s conviction of first-degree criminal sexual conduct was based on intrafamilial sexual abuse. First-degree criminal sexual conduct, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.342, subd. 1(g) (2000), includes sexual penetration where “the actor has a significant relationship to the complainant and the complainant was under 16 years of age at the time of the sexual penetration.” The definition of “significant relationship” includes a parental relationship between the actor and the victim. Minn. Stat. § 609.341, subd. 15(1) (2000). The uncorroborated testimony of a child witness provides sufficient evidence to convict in cases of intrafamilial sexual abuse. See State v. Burns, 524 N.W.2d 516, 521 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Jan. 13, 1995); see also Ruberg v. State, 428 N.W.2d 488, 489-90 (Minn. App. 1988) (finding sufficient evidence under predecessor provision), review denied (Minn. Oct. 26, 1988).
It is undisputed that Lockhart is D.K.’s mother and that D.K. was under 16 years of age at the time of the offense. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we assume that the jury believed D.K.’s testimony that Lockhart engaged in sexual intercourse with him. Although this testimony alone is sufficient to support the verdict, D.K.’s testimony is further corroborated by his prior consistent statements and by Lockhart’s conversation with D.K.’s father. Accordingly, Lockhart’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence must fail.
 To support this argument, appellant notes that the state was allowed to call an expert who supported the victim’s credibility. She contends that Atchley, the detective who originally interviewed the victim, “testif[ied] repeatedly about interview methods and signs of truthfulness . . . more specifically as it related to the [victim].” But because appellant does not directly challenge Atchley’s testimony, we do not address its admissibility.