SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court has clarified how courts should evaluate qualified expert witnesses before they testify in child custody proceedings involving Native American children.
The New Mexico Supreme Court’s opinion comes after a district court in Valencia County allowed Kyli Ahtone, a caseworker, to act as a qualified expert witness in a child abuse case regarding a Native child. Following Ahtone’s testimony, the district court decided to continue to let the state’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) care for the child.
Now, the New Mexico Supreme Court says Ahtone wasn’t properly qualified to testify about whether the child would be harmed if they stayed with their parents.
“CYFD never asked Ms. Ahtone to explain the subject matter of her previous expert testimony, whether her ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] training covered the topics presented, or whether she had been taught how to determine whether certain types of abuse were likely to manifest self-harm or suicidal thoughts,” the New Mexico Supreme Court wrote in their opinion.
The New Mexico Supreme Court says Ahtone has been qualified in Oklahoma as an expert in the past, and was qualified to testify about some of the social aspects of the child’s tribe, but may not have been qualified to testify about family matters.
So, the New Mexico Supreme Court says district courts must consider two separate categories when determining if someone is a qualified expert witness. In the Valencia County case, the child will get another hearing regarding their placement.