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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Ethical Issues

Forensic experts must adhere to ethical standards of conduct and be aware of the proper procedures and legal constraints or motions that may affect their testimony.

A cautionary word: In the legal system, attorneys are advocates. Their duty is to put forward a set of facts and proofs that support the state's or the client's position. Occasionally, zeal for the cause may shade professional and intellectual independence. It is not improper for the advocate to give an expert a wish list stating the most desirable conclusions from the attorney's and client's viewpoint. This does not mean, however, that the expert must support that view.

Expert witnesses' integrity, reputation, and personal and professional self-esteem are at stake and require that their conclusions and opinions be supported by the available body of facts and by operative knowledge. Experts must always follow the scientific method, regardless of the path it forces them to take. "Following" the scientific method has to do with how science is conducted. "Adhering to the principles" of objective and unbiased science describes how scientific results are reported or presented.

As in any professional, technical or scientific field, experts must keep abreast of current information and maintain a high level of competence. Many experts do this by attending seminars that deal with enhancing forensic skills. Experts must also maintain professional competence at a substantive level. Before they become competent, credible and valuable witnesses, they must be able to perform as competent, capable and credible professionals. They must perform with excellence the day-to-day functions that are the cornerstones of their practices.

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