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STATE v. SALAZAR-MERCADO

May 29, 2014

STATE OF ARIZONA, APPELLEE,
v.
MARTIN DAVID SALAZAR-MERCADO, APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Timmer, opinion of the Court.

Justice TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice BERCH, Vice Chief Justice BALES, Justice PELANDER, and Justice BRUTINEL joined.

In 2012, this Court amended Arizona Rule of Evidence 702, which governs the admissibility of expert testimony, to conform to its federal counterpart and followDaubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). We granted review to determine whether Rule 702 and Daubertbar admission of "cold" expert testimony that educates the fact-finder about general principles without considering the particular facts of the case. We hold that Rule 702 does not bar such testimony and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged expert testimony in this case.

I. BACKGROUND

The State indicted Martin Salazar-Mercado on multiple counts of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor under age fifteen for abusing his cousin's daughter and step-son. Salazar-Mercado moved before trial to preclude the State from eliciting expert testimony from Dr. Wendy Dutton, a forensic interviewer who holds a Ph.D. in justice studies, about Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome ("CSAAS"), which purportedly explains behaviors commonly exhibited by child sexual abuse victims. He primarily argued that Dutton's testimony would not satisfy amended Rule 702(d) because she was both a "cold" expert, meaning she would only educate the jury about CSAAS, and a "blind" expert, meaning she had no knowledge about the victims in this case and would not offer any opinions specific to them. The trial court denied the motion, and Dutton testified at trial, explaining generally how children perceive sexual abuse, describing behaviors involving disclosure of abuse, and relating circumstances in which children may make false allegations. The jury found Salazar-Mercado guilty on all but two counts, and the court imposed sentences, the most severe of which was life in prison with eligibility for release in thirty-five years.

The court of appeals affirmed. State v. Salazar-Mercado, 232 Ariz. 256, 258 ¶ 1, 304 P.3d 543, 545 (App.2013). Pursuant to Article 6, Section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24, we granted review of Salazar-Mercado's petition for review because it presents an issue of first impression and statewide importance.

II. DISCUSSION

A.

1.

We interpret court rules to effect the rule-makers' intent, using the same principles we apply when interpreting statutes. Chronis v. Steinle, 220 Ariz. 559, 560 ¶ 6, 208 P.3d 210, 211 (2009). If a rule's language is plain and unambiguous, we apply it as written without further analysis. Canon Sch. Dist. No. 50 v. W.E.S. Constr. Co., 177 Ariz. 526, 529, 869 P.2d 500, 503 (1994). But if the language is ambiguous, we apply secondary principles of construction, such as examining the rule's historical background, its spirit and purpose, and the effects and consequences of competing interpretations. Chronis, 220 Ariz. at 560 ¶ 6, 208 P.3d at 211. We review the interpretation of a court rule de novo. State v. Gutierrez, 229 Ariz. 573, 576 ¶ 19, 278 P.3d 1276, 1279 (2012) (citation omitted).

2.

We begin our analysis with the language of Rule 702:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence ...


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