ON BEING The Expert Witness
What Is An Expert Witness? • A person with demonstrated education, training, experience and demonstrated competence in a specific scientific or technical field. The expert’s knowledge and capability to explain arcane or technical concepts should be of use to the court and applicable to the case at hand.
There are various fields in which experts dwell • Recognizing the boundaries of each field is important so that unsupported and unscientific opinions do not confound the very persons whom are to be illuminated by the expression of those opinions. The expert is held not only in esteem but to a high standard of honesty and self-limitation. • Recognizing one’s own boundaries of expertise is similarly critical for the same reason.
Evidence based medicine • It is the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the pathologic diagnosis in individual patients. • The practice of evidence based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available clinical evidence from systematic research.
Preparations for testimony • Research into the points to be addressed or reasonably anticipated is prudent, often vital. • Recognition of known or probable dissenting point of view or interpretation of evidence is also prudent, often vital. • The end goal is to assist the court in integration of technical or scientific evidence into the other factors of the case at hand.
Assisting the court and attorney • Limitations of assistance – any discussions with attorneys that touch upon their trial strategy should be kept. • Advantages of pre-trial preparations • No bad “surprises” • Presentation of technical or scientific material will be clearer to the jury • Neutrality v advocacy
Trial testimony • Qualification as expert • Education • Experience! Experience! Experience! • Continuing education – recalling the practice of evidence based medicine • Application of expertise to case at hand • Traps to avoid • Very common in medicine is the application of population statistics blindly to the individual • Straying beyond your boundaries
Trial testimony • The jury is your audience • Appearance – be professional in this as well as in presentation and knowledge • Mannerisms – forget the head-scratch • Explanations – when presenting arcane or technical points to a jury, avoid showing how smart you think you are. Think of presenting a show to 9th grade science students. • The value of jury polls
Now the juicy part – disputes among experts • Disputes based upon technical grounds • Interpretations of evidence • Common areas of dispute • In pathology, they are virtually unlimited • Aging of injuries • Significance of findings in pediatric autopsy • How long did it take him to die? • Conscious pain and suffering • Interpretation of postmortem toxicology
Disputes among experts • You gotta call ‘em like you see ‘em • Even physical findings at autopsy are subject to interpretation • Case example • Boundaries of expertise – the person who is expert in all fields is suspect, but might fool those outside the field • Be a gentleman / gentlewoman, but brook no nonsense