Expert testimony irrelevant to analyze child pornography

Introduction

In the case of United States v Silva [2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 12489], the defendant challenged his conviction on the charge of possession of child pornography. He based his challenge on various counts which included an incorrect dismissal of expert testimony. The Court upheld the conviction and held that there was no abuse of discretion on part of the lower court to dismiss the testimony of the proposed expert witness.

Background

The appellant firstly contested his district court conviction on grounds of vagueness of the charging statute. He also challenged the conviction on basis of an abuse of discretion by the district court in disallowing the testimony of the defendant’s proposed expert witness. The Court held against the appellant on both counts, holding that the statute was not vague in its standard to judge pornography and secondly there was no abuse of discretion in disallowing the testimony of the expert witness to offer testimony on the nature of the offending film.

Discussion

The Court discussed whether or not there was any requirement for an expert witness to analyze the evidence laid before the Court. The appellant invoked Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and tried to introduce Professor Leo of Rhode State as an expert witness. The appellant proposed to use the witness to explain to the jury that the poses show in the film in question were not sexually suggestive in nature. The district court disallowed the proposed testimony on the ground that an expert was not needed to judge whether a particular film or picture portrayed anything sexually suggestive. The Court used precedence, as laid down in United States v. Arvin [900 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1990)], to demonstrate that the district court had sufficient discretion to decide which witness could assist the jury in any substantial manner in similar cases of obscenity and pornography. The district also disallowed the expert witness from appearing as a summary witness, because the manner of his delivery was rambling and disjointed and did not inspire confidence in the jury. The Court thus held that the jury had enough skill to appreciate whether a particular film was sexually suggestive or not and that there was no requirement of an expert witness under Rule 702 to help the jury to appreciate the same.