When a case goes to court, jurors require detailed, factual information about the events that occurred. While evidence can provide some degree of insight, questions are often left unanswered, especially if there was a lack of key witnesses at the scene.
Thanks in part to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, an expert witness can help shed light on what occurred at the point of the incident, even if they were not physically present when it happened. Their testimony and professional opinion can help inform jurors and lead to a sounder, more resolute case outcome.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at what this job entails and the role that an expert witness plays in court proceedings.
What is an expert witness?
An expert witness is someone who is specially trained in a particular field of expertise and whose knowledge in that given subject or discipline goes beyond the level of understanding possessed by a typical layman.
As such, they can clarify, explain, and provide an expert opinion on complex and complicated matters that the average person cannot understand. These professionals can speak confidently on technical matters due to their elevated knowledge, training, education, and skill set.
- An expert witness is someone who has extensive specialized knowledge and training in a specific subject and area of expertise.
- During a trial, expert witnesses will be called to testify for the defense or prosecution, even if they did not witness anything.
What is the role of an expert witness?
Expert witnesses are often called to testify in cases where there is a dispute over a specific, case-related detail. If left unresolved, the ambiguity surrounding these disputes can be detrimental to the case, adding both time and costs to the trial.
State and federal courts allow expert witnesses to take the stand if a pressing issue prevents a final decision. The witness will share their impartial, unbiased opinion based purely on their expertise and technical facts. This can help clear up any questions and allow the court to move forward. The judge or jury will use the information that the expert witness provides to assist them in reaching a decision.
Note that while many expert witnesses have specialized knowledge on academic or technical subjects, this isn’t always the case. These witnesses can be experts in various disciplines, including the fields of medical, engineering, mechanical, forensics, mental health, parenting, psychology, and more.
- Expert witnesses are used in trials to offer a professional option that can support or try to dismiss case-related details.
- It is common for expert witnesses to have decades of experience in academic or technical subjects; there are many different circumstances when expert witnesses can be used.
What is an example of expert witness testimony?
Expert witnesses can be valuable in many different types of trials. To help explain how the process works, consider the example of an expert witness in a domestic violence case.
The jury might not understand why an abused partner did not leave their partner. Or, they may question why they behaved in a certain way toward their abuser. Their actions might be questionable to someone who does not have experience in dealing with domestic violence issues.
However, a psychologist can be called in to serve as an expert witness. They can explain the nuances behind how these relationships work and give their professional opinion as to why the individuals in question acted in the manner that they did.
What is an expert witness locator?
An expert witness locator is an organization that helps a party identify an expert witness that can be beneficial in their trial. Attorneys turn to this type of referral service for a variety of reasons, including when:
- They need to save time and proceed with a trial as soon as possible.
- They need an out-of-state expert witness and cannot get a personal recommendation.
- The expert specialty is very narrow, and there are few experts in the field.
These organizations will locate viable professionals by searching a nationwide database of expert witnesses appropriate to a specific case. Legal task management software makes it easy for attorneys to track the activities required to secure and communicate with an expert witness. This saves the party both time and expense, allowing them to secure the right resources without the labor required to perform a search on their own.
In addition to using locator services, parties seeking an expert witness can also reference the following resources and organizations:
- Professional and legal associations
- Certifying agencies
- Journal publishers
- Colleges and universities
- Online directories
- Client referrals
What does an expert witness do?
An expert witness testifies in court about what they believe has happened in a case. They will craft this testimony by referencing their unique skills and knowledge in a given area.
As they do so, they will help to break overly complex, technical topics into simple terms that anyone can understand. They also simplify complicated situations, helping to explain how or why an incident may have occurred.
In a typical trial, the only witnesses who can testify about what occurred are those who have experienced the incident in any of their five senses, including sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.
However, an expert witness is not held to these constraints. This individual can testify and draw conclusions based on their professional opinion alone.
While most will share their insights in person, there has been a recent rise in remote testimonies, especially in the post-pandemic legal environment. Today, secure cloud-based legal software makes it easier for teams to collaborate and communicate across geographical barriers and time zone constraints.
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