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IS YOUR CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION VALID IF CONDUCTED VIRTUALLY
August 28, 2022
If you are in a child custody battle and the parties were sent out to do a psychological evaluation during the pandemic you may have grounds to challenge that report. In order to determine whether an expert report can come into evidence the Court must weigh the reliability of that evidence before it can consider it. In my view, remote testing is not generally accepted by the scientific community as yet for purposes of arriving at an expert opinion as to custody so that it may be challanged. Historically there are two tests that Courts rely upon in doing so, those being Daubert and Fry, but New York follows the Frye test for the admissibility of expert witness testimony, opinions and reports.
The Frye test is the “general acceptance test,” providing that expert opinions grounded in a scientific theory or technique are admissible in evidence only if the theory or technique used is generally accepted as reliable by the scientific community in which they practice. Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923); Parker v. Mobil Oil, N.Y.3d 434, 824 N.Y.S.2d 584 (2006); People v. Wesley, N.Y.2d 417, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97 (1994); People v. Brooks, N.Y.3d 939, 96 N.E.3d 206 (2018); Ratner v. McNeil-PPC, Inc., 91 A.D.3d 63, 933 N.Y.S.2d 323 (2d Dept. 2011); Lugo v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., A.D.3d 42, 929 N.Y.S.2d 264 (2d Dept. 2011) State v. David D., 37 N.Y.S.3d 685 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). In other words, the Court must consider the "question of whether the accepted techniques, when properly performed, generate results accepted as reliable within the scientific community generally." People v. Wesley, 83 N.Y.2d 417, 422, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97, 633 N.E.2d 451 (1994); see also, Parker v. Mobil Oil Corporation, 7 N.Y.3d 434, 824 N.Y.S.2d 584, 857 N.E.2d 1114 (2006). The scientific principle "must be recognized" [widely] and "sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs" . Wesley, at 422–424, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97, 633 N.E.2d 451, quoting Frye, supra. "The Frye test emphasizes 'counting scientists' votes, rather than on verifying the soundness of a scientific conclusion' " . Id., at 439, 611 N.Y.S.2d 97, 633 N.E.2d 451(Kaye, Ch.J., concurring) see also, People v. LeGrand, 8 N.Y.3d 449, 835 N.Y.S.2d 523, 867 N.E.2d 374 (2007).
Under the Frye test, the burden of proving general acceptance rests on the party presenting the disputed evidence. Zito v. Zabarsky, 28 A.D.3d 42, 44, 812 N.Y.S.2d 535 (2d Dept.2006). General acceptance can be established through "texts and scholarly articles" , expert testimony and judicial opinions. People. v. Wernick, 215 A.D.2d 50, 52, 632 N.Y.S.2d 839 (2d Dept.1995), affirmed, 89 N.Y.2d 111, 651 N.Y.S.2d 392, 674 N.E.2d 322 (1996)..
Accordingly, to determine if said evidence is accepted, the court must, as gatekeeper, analyze whether the expert has used “accepted techniques” to arrive at his or her opinions. State v. Ralph P., 39 N.Y.S.3d 643 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). Moreover, it is important for the Court to identify which scientific community’s opinion of acceptability is relevant in assessing the reliability and general acceptance of the methodologies used to arrive at an expert opinion. In the context of this case, the scientific community would be the American Psychological Association
In order for expert opinions or reports to be admitted into evidence there must be a judicial finding that said evidence was arrived at by the use of proper acceptable procedures condoned by that expert’s scientific community as being reliable through scientific findings, sufficient testing, treatises, published books or other such papers demonstrating acceptance of the scientific principle within the applicable scientific community. In order for a piece of expert evidence to be admissible, then, the “principle, procedures and tools of discovery used by the expert must have passed the mere experimental [nascent] stage and become demonstrable scientific knowledge generally accepted as valid within the relevant scientific community.” People v. Bullard-Daniel, 42 N.Y.S.3d 714 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. 2016). The court does not determine whether the expert’s findings are correct, but rather, the court determines whether “those espousing the theory or opinion have followed generally accepted scientific principles and methodology in evaluating clinical data to reach their conclusions.” State v Ralph P, 39 N.Y.S.3d 643.
Due to the pandemic, many psychological forensic evaluators have been made to rely largely upon remote interviews, remote testing and remote questionnaires, despite cautionary advise by their community to revert to standardized testing as soon as they are able.
In an article espousing the view of the psychological community on the validity of evaluations conducted remotely during covid, the American Psychological Association warned that practitioners cannot guarantee a valid equivalency between conducting an assessment remotely and conducting one in person, stating that…” Replications of studies are needed, and evidence needs to be amassed…” because these assessment methods have always relied on interpersonal procedures that require personal contact and interaction, such as standardized interactions between the forensic examiner and party, and clinical observation of the party in their office. See, American Psychological Association. (2020, May 1). Guidance on psychological tele-assessment during the COVID-19 crisis. https://www.apaservices.org/practice/reimbursement/health-codes/testing/tele-assessment-covid-19
As stated above, the consensus of the psychological scientific community is that there is a lack of sufficient scientific literature that would legitimize expert opinions derived from remote evaluations as reliable.
As such, it is my legal opinion that all such reports should be challenged as inadmissible.
Your New York Divorce Lawyer
Lisa Beth Older, Esq.