Oregon Case Law Update: Expert Testimony Must Be Helpful to be Admitted

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Expert Testimony Must Be Helpful to be Admitted

From the desk of Josh Hayward: Under the Oregon Evidence Code, expert testimony is admissible so long as it will assist the jury in understanding the evidence. If the testimony does not assist the jury, it is considered unhelpful and will be excluded. Read on to see how the courts apply this rule.

Claims Pointer: In this sexual abuse case, a licensed psychologist’s expert testimony regarding the defendant’s diagnosed adjustment disorder was offered in support of the defendant’s theory that he falsely confessed due to distress. The Oregon Supreme Court determined that the trial court properly excluded the testimony because at best the testimony only demonstrated that it was within the realm of possibility that people with adjustment disorders could falsely confess due to stress. The case provides valuable insight into how the courts evaluate the usefulness of expert testimony.

State v. Jesse, 360 Or 584 (November 17, 2016).

In April 2011, Lane Jesse (“Jesse”) was indicted on one count of first-degree sexual abuse based on an allegation that he knowingly subjected his daughter to sexual contact. At trial, Jesse sought to introduce expert testimony from a licensed psychologist, Dr. Callum, with whom he attended 15 counseling sessions in 2009 and 2010. Dr. Callum was to testify about her clinical impressions of Jesse in support of his theory that certain statements he made were not actual confessions of guilt. Specifically, Jesse offered Dr. Callum’s testimony to support an inference that his adjustment disorder contributed to an overreaction to accidentally touching his daughter that, in turn, contributed to his making admissions that were not actual confessions of guilt.

The prosecution moved in limine to exclude Dr. Callum’s testimony on the grounds it was not helpful to the jury, and, following a hearing, the trial court agreed and excluded Dr. Callum’s testimony. At trial, Jesse subsequently...

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