TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s highest court has struck down a 2013
state law, backed by Gov. Rick Scott, that changed the standard used
by Florida to govern the admissibility of expert witness testimony.
In Feb. 16's majority opinion,
the court asserted jurisdiction in procedural matters related
Florida’s Evidence Code stating:
“It has been this Court’s policy to
adopt, to the extent they are procedural, provisions of the Florida
Evidence Code as they are enacted and amended by the Legislature.
However, on occasion the Court has declined to adopt legislative
changes to the Evidence Code because of significant concerns about
the amendments, including concerns about the constitutionality of an
amendment. In addition, the Court has declined to follow the
Committee’s recommendation to adopt, to the extent it may be
procedural, legislation creating section 766.102(12).”
The justices further expressed “grave constitutional concern”
about Daubert and questioned whether adopting the federal standard
would be “undermining the right to a jury trial while denying
access to courts.”
In 2013, the Florida Legislature passed
House Bill 7015, which directed courts to follow the federal standard
when allowing certain scientific evidence into evidence. Known as the
Daubert standard, the rule is based on holdings from several cases
1993’s Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. Daubert essentially
sets the ground rules to determine if certain scientific evidence or
testimony is admissible.
Prior to HB 7015, Florida courts followed what is known as the
when determining the admissibility of scientific evidence. The Frye
standard is based upon a 1923 federal case, Frye v. United States. In
Frye, the court held that expert testimony must be grounded in and
based on widely accepted scientific methods.
The key difference between the two holdings, according to a report
by FloridaPolitics.com, is that Daubert essentially requires a
hearing to determine the viability of expert testimony or evidence
before allowing it to be presented into evidence. Frye, meanwhile,
only requires the court to determine that the evidence or testimony
is “generally excepted” by segments of the scientific community.
Justice Ricky Polston authored the dissenting opinion,
stating “the majority’s and the committee’s 'grave
constitutional concerns' regarding the Daubert standard are
unfounded. We should adopt the Daubert standard as amended in the
Florida Evidence Code by the Legislature in 2013.”
In an interview in March, William Large, president of the Florida
Justice Reform Institute, told
the Florida Record that reaction to the 2013 legislation was
split among the legal with “members of the Plaintiff’s Bar
vociferously objecting to” changing the standard. Daubert is
generally viewed as favorable to defendants. The Florida Record
has placed calls to FJRI and Large seeking comment on the Supreme
HB 7015 was sponsored
by District 32 Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yahala, with backing by Scott’s
administration. Scott signed HB 7015 into law and it took effect July
While the amendment became law in 2013, the state’s courts did
not immediately follow suit, preferring to wait for the higher court
to issue an opinion regarding jurisdiction of the matter. In May, the
Bar Association’s Code and Rules of Evidence Committee disseminated
a report addressed to then-committee Chair Timothy Moore expressing
the position that state’s constitution concedes authority in court
procedural matters to the court.
Calls to current Rules and Evidence Committee Chair Gregory
Borgognoni were not returned by time of publication.
is No. SC16-181.