Expert Nurses with Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) Training May Discuss Injury Causation


Nursing Expert WitnessCourt: Court of Appeals of Kentucky
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Galloway v. Commonwealth
Citation: 2019 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 184

Facts

A jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of rape, sodomy, and fourth-degree assault. The court sentenced him to 45 years in prison. Upon direct appeal, the Supreme Court of Kentucky overturned the assault conviction but upheld all other convictions. After the trial court dismissed the defendant’s motion to set aside his conviction and sentence under RCr 11.42, the defendant filed this appeal. It included a motion to exclude testimony from a sexual assault nurse examiner retained as an expert witness by the commonwealth.

The Nursing Expert Witness’s Testimony

At the trial, the nursing expert witness testified that she was a licensed sexual assault nurse examiner. The subject of the nursing expert witness’s testimony was her evaluation of injuries the victim suffered. During the trial, the nursing expert witness identified pictures of the injuries to the victim, which mainly showed bruising to multiple parts of her body. Only once did the nursing expert witness opine as to the cause of the accident when she mentioned that the line on the victim’s neck was probably where a necklace would have been.

The defendant claimed that the nursing expert witness who had observed the victim was not qualified to testify about her injuries. The defendant further argued that the trial counsel had failed to file a Daubert motion challenging qualifications as an expert and that the lawyer should have hired a true expert to assist in his defense.

Discussion

The court noted that in order to become a licensed sexual assault nurse examiner nurse, one must be a registered nurse with at least a bachelor’s degree, undergo a training course, and complete continuing education amounting to a minimum of five contact hours annually. The court observed that “a sexual assault nurse examiner nurse serves two roles: providing medical treatment and gathering evidence. Sexual assault nurse examiners act to supplement law enforcement by eliciting evidence of past offenses with an eye toward future criminal prosecution. . . . The sexual assault nurse examiner nurse nurse is an active participant in the formal criminal investigation,” citing Hartsfield v. Commonwealth. The court further noted that the Supreme Court of Kentucky had held in Edmonds v. Commonwealth that sexual assault nurse examiners with training and experience working in emergency rooms were qualified to testify about the consistency of a victim’s injuries with assault patients they treated.

The court noted that sexual assault nurse examiners were allowed to testify on the basis of their knowledge regarding the likely cause of injury throughout Kentucky. Furthermore, the nursing expert witness who looked at the victim had been accredited as such for nearly 7 years and had carried out hundreds of sexual assault tests. The court believed that the nursing expert witness was qualified to say that the line on the victim’s chest was consistent with where the necklace would have been. The nursing expert was also deemed qualified to assert that the markings on different parts of the victim’s body were bruises. Therefore, the court was of the opinion that the trial court had correctly found that the nursing expert witness was competent to provide testimony regarding the injury suffered by the victim.

Held

The Daubert hearing was deemed unnecessary because the nursing expert witness complied with the statutory requirement. As such, the defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the nursing expert witness was denied.

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