Let's Talk About It
"We need to find an expert witness in injury mechanism analysis." So begins the wild goose chase.
Any good attorney, whether prosecuting or defending, will want to bolster the evidence in their case through the testimony of an "Expert" witness. The problem is, that just like attorneys and investigators, you often don't know what you're going to get.
I don't have a problem with someone testifying due to specialized training and experience, but I am very leery of the word, "expert." After all, there are countless examples of expert witnesses who turned out to be complete frauds, merely sloppy, or failed to keep up with advances in their fields. The damage these experts have caused to defendants, victim's families, and the public trust in the criminal justice system is hard to overstate. Just Google "discredited expert witnesses" and you see what I mean.
When certain witnesses are given the title, "expert," the jury believes that they have undergone a level of scrutiny that validates their expertise. Unfortunately, the source of the expert witness' credibility is too often their own carefully crafted and polished CV. This is a good start, but as everyone knows, many people embellish their resumes. Surely someone is calling the universities and verifying the expert's claimed academic bonafides? How about checking to see if the various training programs they have attended are accredited? What about all those industry symposiums and conferences; did they actually attend, or did they just add those on, knowing that no one would check attendance rosters?
Don't worry, there is a method of validating expert witnesses. It's called the Daubert standard, which along with Kumho Tire, sounds really good. Unfortunately, it leaves the validation in the hands of the judge, who is himself usually not an expert in the same subject. The Daubert standard is also flexible enough to allow allow expert witnesses whose backgrounds may not satisfy all of the requirements.
Expert witnesses are supposed to be objective, neutral witnesses whose special knowledge of a subject is meant to clear things up, so why do we so often see dueling experts with wildly different conclusions? Is it merely coincidence that their testimony most often supports the side that is paying them?
I propose having expert opinion settled before the trial even begins. Let the prosecution and defense expert witnesses submit their findings to a peer review board, which will evaluate their methodology, and deliver a consensus opinion on the conclusions. The completed peer review should provide a good evaluation of which expert has rendered the correct opinion supported by the current standards of their industry.
Until then, make sure you thoroughly investigate those expert witnesses!
Daryl Parker is a published author, investigator, inventor, criminal justice reform activist, retired U.S. Marine, and treasure hunter.