August 25, 2008

Psychologist may not testify, judge rules

A Vermont judge has ruled against allowing a psychologist to testify in a child pornography case aginst a prominent local man.

The defense had sought to call Thomas Powell to testify about two issues:
  • Whether pamphlets found in the home of Stewart Read were pornographic, and
  • Whether the boys pictured in the pamphlets were under the age of 16.
District Judge Karen Carroll said Powell did not have the expertise to testify about either topic. First, he is not a medical doctor so he cannot be an expert on the anatomy of boys, she ruled. Second, it is up to the jury to determine what constitutes pornography, following community standards.

"Why should the jury care what Tom Powell thinks is lewd?" Judge Carroll asked. She said the defense attorney was trying to have Powell "come in and give his opinion" rather than just state facts helpful to the jury.

Although laws vary somewhat by jurisdiction, in general professionals are only allowed to testify as "experts" if they possess specialized knowledge that is beyond the realm of laypeople and will assist the trier of fact (such as a jury or judge) to understand the evidence and/or decide an issue.

On the face of it, the judge’s opinion certainly appears sound.

The full article, in today’s Rutland Herald, is online here.

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