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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Being a Court-Appointed Expert

Photo of a judge, lawyer, and witness convening near a court stand
National Institute of Justice (NIJ) (see reuse policy).

Learning Objectives

After completing Being a Court-Appointed Expert, the user should:

  • Know that the court may appoint its own expert, even if each side has its own expert on a particular issue.
  • Know that testimony can be provided, but actual testing may not be conducted.
  • Recognize applicable state statutes or criminal procedure rules.
  • Know the role of the judge or special master.
  • Know that the judge may ask questions when testimony is given.

Court-appointed experts fall into two general categories:   

  1. Experts appointed by and for the court to assist the fact finder in a criminal or civil case.
  2. Experts appointed by the court to assist an indigent criminal defendant.

Sometimes experts are appointed by the court to provide a "third opinion," reviewing the same factual material and evidence as the parties' experts and testifying to their own conclusions.

The court might also appoint an expert in a technical case exclusively to explain to the jury the basic theories or methods they will need to understand the parties' experts. Such a court-appointed expert does not express an opinion on the facts of the case but rather serves an educational role.

When a court-appointed expert witness testifies, the witness is "called by the court," and all parties may question and cross-examine the expert witness.

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