Forensic testimony is given by an expert witness using their expertise in science or technology to reach conclusions for a lawsuit or prosecution. Simply put, forensics is the science of proving or disproving a theory, but common expert witness mistakes can thwart the potential benefit and lead to undesirable and disappointing outcomes.
It is the job of the expert witness to examine the available evidence and give their professional opinion of whether or not the theory can be proven. In criminal courts, the burden is 100% and the expert witness must be able to prove with all certainty the evidence leads to a conclusion which is precise.
Though many people claim to be subject matter experts (SMEs) in their field, they may not be the best choice when it comes to testifying in court. Reviewing the following list of circumstances where mistakes may come into play, will likely mitigate unforeseen issues in court:
- The more self-important a person appears, the more likely they are to play poorly to the jury. Testifying in a convincing manner requires people skills; if the expert witness doesn’t have them, their words could be an affront to the jury. Sometimes it’s as simple as speaking directly toward them in a conversational tone.
- Make a diligent attempt to break down scientific analysis in such a way that a lay person can understand. If questioned about a technical process or evidence, it’s best to describe your answer in a way the courtroom can clearly understand. Using analogies can help your target audience (the jury) relate to extremely complicated procedures.
- It is always helpful to keep answers short and to the point without wandering off on technical tangents. If possible, using answers such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are best, unless requested to elaborate.
- Helping the attorney understand is the first step in keeping a clear flow of questions and answers. If the opponent’s job is to trip you up – to be a hired gun and only present contradictory arguments – remain confident that only misleading or untruthful counter arguments can defeat your honest conclusion.
- If the opposing counselor cannot disprove your finding, their next step is to attack the expert witness themselves. Don’t make their job easier by providing misleading testimony or depositions; which may later serve to impeach or discredit you in future cases.
- The expert witness is there to help everyone in the courtroom understand your findings, even if they point to a lack of evidence. If there was evidence found, the theory can be proven to a judge or jury.
- If your forensics examination does not support the overall case success, there is no reason to be frustrated or to provide marginal data. Becoming agitated, arguing with the opposing attorney, or trying to answers questions which do not pertain to your analysis will diminish your credibility.
- Your professionalism, presentation of evidence, personal demeanor, and appearance on the stand is a vital part of your expert persona. Treat both representing attorneys equally and do not agree to hypotheticals while explaining the evidence.
- Always, and I mean 100% of the time, tell the truth. One lie or misleading statement can destroy your career or even worse, result in criminal and civil repercussions being leveled against you.
- An expert witness should study and rehearse their case notes before going into the courtroom. Take the time to cover every detail with the attorneys, and walk through the findings. These simple steps will allow the attorney an opportunity to challenge any finding you plan to present, while defining expectations between you during direct testimony.