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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Objectivity vs. Advocacy

Experts should remain objective, whereas lawyers should be advocates for their clients. Fundamental unethical conduct occurs when experts knowingly compromise proper methods, standards and procedures in order to satisfy the goals of a case.

The advocate may give the expert a wish list, stating the most desirable conclusions from the attorney's and state's viewpoint. This does not mean, however, that the expert must support that view.

The expert's integrity, reputation, and personal and professional self-esteem require that the conclusions reached and opinions espoused are supported by the available body of facts and operative knowledge. The expert should always follow the scientific method, regardless of the path it forces the expert to take.

If the expert has an interest in the outcome of a case, by virtue of employment or otherwise, the expert will be approached with care. Government witnesses face this problem by definition. They should make any disclosures freely, and early. Any interests that are not disclosed may give the appearance of shading the investigative and testimony process and may also afford substantial opportunity for damaging cross-examination.

Unfortunately, some crime labs, because of the crunch of demands for drug testing, have cut corners, for example, by reporting the presence of controlled substances only on the basis of a presumptive screening. That test would not justify a scientific conclusion. Although some defendants might plead guilty on the basis of such inadequate evidence, such shallow work does not serve the process.

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