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How Expert Witnesses Are Involved in Lawsuits

May 9, 2008
We all know that DNA plays a critical role in a criminal trial thanks to the things we've learned watching court room dramas on television. Nobody, however, really talks about the witnesses testifying on such evidence.

A trial is actually a fairly simple procedure. The law sets for the elements that must be proved. The parties then argue their sides of each issue. Problems arise, however, when the subjects being argued over get complex.

When things get complex, expert witnesses are introduced to a trial. They have one duty. They must explain complicated things in simple terms you and I can understand if we are on the jury. A few examples will help.

Image a drunk driving trial. It seems straight forward, but what about the complexities of determining blood alcohol content? It is a scientific measurement that only an expert witness can testify to.

Criminal cases are where experts really come to the forefront. Testimony regarding evidence chain of custody and tests are customary. As we've seen on television, DNA evidence is where cases are made or broken.

Does expert witness testimony always prevail in lawsuits? No. One of the strategies commonly used is to nullify the impact of experts by having other experts testify against them. There is a rather famous case where this worked.

The battle of experts in the Simpson trial was classic. The prosecution experts testified Simpson's DNA was on various evidence, but the defense testified nobody could say how it got there. The jury ignored the DNA and acquitted him.

Contrasting opinions from experts really doesn't serve the initial reason for having experts. If opposing experts are giving opposite views, does it really help jurors figure out a complex subject? One would think not.

Ultimately, the role of expert witnesses in litigation may be a bit confused, but they are still critical to getting a decision by a jury. Without them, it would be nearly impossible for a jury to decide on something like a medical malpractice case.
About the Author
Anthony Armand writes about psychiatric expert witness issues for PsychiatricExpertWitness.com.
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