A Simple Truth (Revisited): Expert Testimony on Mental Retardation

By July 7, 2011Sex Crimes

Barshaw v. State, Texas MHMR victimIn September of 2010, the 3rd Court of Appeals (Austin) reversed the sexual assault conviction of Mark Barshaw because the trial court allowed the following testimony of an MHMR expert regarding the truthfulness of mentally retarded individuals:

It’s been my experience that folks with mental retardation can be painfully honest, really. I mean, it’s like a little kid who looks at somebody and says in the supermarket, ‘You’re really old,’ or, you know, whatever little kids do.

See our prior post HERE.  The State appealed the 3rd Court’s reversal and now, in an opinion released on 29 June 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Court of Appeals.

Barshaw v. State (Texas Court of Criminal Appeals 2011)

Apparently troubled by the less-than-thorough harm analysis conducted by the lower court, the CCA explained:

Even in cases in which credibility is paramount, Texas courts have found harmless error when the inadmissible expert testimony was only a small portion of a large amount of evidence presented that the jury could have considered in assessing the victim’s credibility. Upon reviewing the record as a whole, we find that additional evidence exists that should have been considered in the court of appeals’s harm analysis, as is required by [our previous caselaw].

With that, the CCA remanded the case back to the 3rd Court of Appeals to conduct a full harm analysis. A shot across the bow perhaps? I think the odds are heavily in favor of the Court of Appeals changing its mind on this one. We’ll see.