The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s office has notified defense attorneys in their area that one of their expert witnesses lied on her resume about earning a college degree.
False Testimony About Background
Tracy Nix is a staff member of the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s office who has testified in court and written in her resume that she has a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly.
In 2014, the District Attorney’s Office presented Nix as an expert witness in a sexual abuse case. Deputy District Attorney Kelly Mandeino asked Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy to declare Nix an expert. Manderino presented Nix’s resume and asked Nix to testify about her qualifications.
Manderino asked Nix, “Do you have a bachelor’s degree?” Nix testified, “I have. I do.” Manderino then asked, “And is that from Cal Poly?” Nix testified, “It is.” However, Nix’s Cal Poly profile shows that Nix never graduated.
Nix also testified that she had taught an advanced psychology class at Cal Poly every quarter for five years for Connie Hanretty-Church, a lecturer in the Psychology and Child Development Department. Church wrote in an email, “Tracy was a guest speaker several years ago (2014) when I taught an upper division course entitled, “Child Abuse and Neglect. . . . She was a regular guest speaker for several years, can’t recall if it two or three years.”
Nix gave testimony in a case that resulted in the conviction of Ronald Cowan for sodomy, oral copulation, and lewd acts with a child. Cowan was sentenced to 65 years to life in prison. Cowan’s conviction was later reversed on appeal due to prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutorial misconduct was unrelated to Nix’s testimony.
District Attorney Dan Dow justified his decision not to prosecute a member of his staff for perjury by contending that Nix “believed she had a degree” because she had participated in the Cal Poly commencement ceremony. Dow make the remarkable suggestion that, “It is common at Cal Poly for people to believe they have graduated when they have not.”
Cal Poly students who have not graduated are allowed to participate in commencement ceremonies if they agree to finishing their degree within two quarters. Dow’s statement is apparently based on the belief that many Cal Poly students do not know the difference between participating in a ceremony and earning a degree.
Dow also hired an investigator to determine whether Nix had committed perjury.
Responsibility to Notify About False Testimony
Despite the fact that Dow has determined that Nix has not perjured herself, he has begun to notify defense attorneys of her false testimony. A 1959 U.S. Supreme Court case, Napue v. Illinois, requires prosecutors to correct the testimony of witnesses they know to be false. The failure to do so would deny due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Dow has said that his office is actively taking steps to notify the defendant’s attorneys in cases where Nix testified as an expert witness that Nix did not receive a bachelor’s degree. Dow said, “It will be up to each defendant and their counsel to decide whether it is a significant enough issue in their individual case to warrant filing of a motion with the court.” Defense attorneys in most cases are likely to conclude that an expert’s false testimony about her credentials is a significant issue that warrants a new trial.