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A Better Partnership
December 23, 2013

MSC gives COA a second chance to determine whether defendant was prejudiced when expert testified that complainant was victim of criminal sexual conduct

After oral argument on the application for leave to appeal, in People v. Harris, the Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to and vacated the Michigan Court of Appeals decision.  On remand, the Court of Appeals will reconsider whether Harris was denied the right to a fair trial by his trial counsel's failure to object to the expert's testimony that the expert had "diagnosed" the complainant as a victim of criminal sexual conduct.

Harris was convicted of criminal sexual conduct.  At his trial, an expert who had interviewed the six-year-old accuser testified that she diagnosed that the six year old was the victim of abuse.  The Court of Appeals affirmed Harris’s conviction.  The Michigan Supreme Court reversed that decision in part, holding that Harris’s trial counsel’s failure to object to the expert testimony was objectively unreasonable under Michigan law.  The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for a determination of whether Harris was prejudiced by the expert testimony.  On remand, the Court of Appeals held that Harris was not prejudiced, in part, because the alleged victim’s testimony “alone was sufficient to sustain Harris’s conviction.”  Harris again sought leave in the Michigan Supreme Court, which again vacated and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals.
The Order on remand stated that the “Court of Appeals erred by focusing on whether the complainant’s testimony alone was sufficient to sustain Harris’s conviction.”  It directed the Court of Appeals to consider whether Harris was prejudiced by the admission of expert testimony under both the plain error test and the ineffective assistance of counsel standard.

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