Expert Witness


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What makes an expert credible to a jury? Clearly this is a critical question for both lawyers, and the expert witnesses they retain. The most knowledgeable expert in the world is functionally useless unless they can effectively communicate their expertise to a jury, something every lawyer knows well.
Kathy Kellerman, of ComCom, cites extensive jury research in her argument that good experts are “good teachers with sound credentials and acceptable motives for offering their testimony”.
This revealing article, based on post-case jury interviews, can be read in whole below.
“Experts are important witnesses in a high percentage of civil and criminal trials. Jurors use multiple criteria to judge the credibility of expert testimony.
Schuman and colleagues (1994) interviewed jurors from many different trials in a number of cities about how they responded to expert testimony. Jurors considered an expert’s (a) tendency to draw firm conclusions, (b) qualifications and reputation, (c) reasoning, (d) familiarity with the facts of the case, and (e) impartiality. Jurors did not rely on superficial characteristics such as appearance or personality, nor defer automatically to an expert’s conclusions.
Ivkovich and Hans (2003) interviewed 55 jurors who served in 7 different civil trials involving medical malpractice, workplace injury, product liability, asbestos, and a motor vehicle accident. The criteria jurors used to evaluate the expert testimony involved both the message and the messenger:

  • Jurors evaluated the content of expert testimony by looking at its (a) completeness, (b) consistency with other evidence, and (c) complexity.
  • Jurors evaluated the experts on the basis of (a) their credentials, (b) motives for their testimony, (c) general impressions, and (d) the content and presentation of their testimony. The importance of these factors varied from juror to juror, expert to expert, and case to case. Good witnesses were described as good teachers with sound credentials and acceptable motives for offering their testimony. Jurors agreed less about what made a bad witness.

In sum, jurors evaluate experts and their testimony on their merits”

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