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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Shifts in Admissibility Standards

There has been concern in the forensic and legal community that scientists have gained unprecedented power over the outcome of civil and criminal cases, a power that can be abused.

Scientific evidence, transferred from the laboratory to the courtroom, can be distorted with a more liberal application of the Frye test, combined with other relaxed evidentiary standards.

However, the expert can help avoid these dangers:

A conscientious expert can ask questions to determine, for example, what the lawyer hopes to establish, what other experts the lawyer plans to call as witnesses, and how the lawyer plans to divide the labor among the experts. The expert can also introduce the lawyer to the nature and limits of his or her own specialty, clarifying that he or she is qualified to address certain issues but less qualified than another expert, or not qualified at all to address other issues.

A few recent cases showed that if no scientific data supported an expert's opinion, the expert's conclusion would be disallowed by the trial courts.

Daubert allowed expert opinion based on scientifically valid principles to establish evidentiary relevance and reliability.

For example, in the Kumho Tire case, the court held that the Daubert standard applied to nonscientific expert testimony (skill- or experience-based) and affirmed that the trial judge must "make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field."

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