DELAND — An online legal course for lawyers, judges and law enforcement seeks to teach more people how to evaluate expert witnesses and the laboratory or institution they represent.
Recent events have highlighted the lack of care some people take in selecting, interviewing and assessing expert witnesses, Carol Henderson, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, told the Florida Record.
“It’s getting to crisis proportions. We need to make sure lawyers know how to look at the credentials of experts,” Henderson said. “We saw that there’s a need and it needs to be addressed.”
The course was developed by Stetson’s National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law, founded by Henderson, and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service. Both have been recognized for their innovation in forensic technology.
“It was sort of a natural pairing of the two organizations,” Henderson said.
An expert witness can be a “critical component” in civil and criminal cases, she explained. Surveys and studies have shown these witnesses play a significant role in persuading a jury one way or another.
When an expert’s credentials or methods are called into question, it can have legal and ethical ramifications for lawyers and experts. In one example, lawyers were reprimanded by the court for using a witness with inadequate credentials. In other cases, it has been found that experts wrote reports without doing the work — a practice known as dry-labbing.
“People who are serving time in prison worked in labs who were doing unethical and illegal things,” Henderson said.
Methods and incidents attributed to a laboratory could also impact the credibility of a witness, she said. The course covers both of these, explaining a credential — an individual certification — and an accreditation, which appraises an institution.
The three-hour course offers a chance for anyone in the justice system to become better acquainted with how to evaluate an expert witness. Henderson said even experts could take the course to learn more about how they should be assessed before taking the stand.
Because it’s online, the course has the added convenience of allowing participants to stop in the middle and come back or click links to supplemental resources as they progress through the material, Henderson said
For more information, contact Stetson’s Office of Professional Education at 727-562-7898 or visit NCSTL.org or http://leic.tennessee.edu/expertwitness to register.