Who can serve as an expert forensic science witness at court?

Over the years, evidence presented at trial has grown increasingly difficult for the average juror to understand. By calling on an expert witness who can discuss complex evidence or testing in an easy-to-understand manner, trial lawyers can better present their cases and jurors can be better equipped to weigh the evidence. But this brings up additional difficult questions. How does the court define whether a person is an expert? What qualifications must they meet to provide their opinion in a court of law?

An attorney holding a paper file, questioning an expert witness on the stand in a court of law while the judge looks on. For illustration only.

These questions, too, are addressed in Rule 702. It only allows experts “qualified … by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” To be considered a true expert in any field generally requires a significant level of training and experience. The various forensic disciplines follow different training plans, but most include in-house training, assessments and practical exams, and continuing education. Oral presentation practice, including moot court experience (simulated courtroom proceeding), is very helpful in preparing examiners for questioning in a trial.

Normally, the individual that issued the laboratory report would serve as the expert at court. By issuing a report, that individual takes responsibility for the analysis. This person could be a supervisor or technical leader, but doesn’t necessarily need to be the one who did the analysis. The opposition may also call in experts to refute this testimony, and both witnesses are subject to the standard in use by that court (Frye, Daubert, Rule 702) regarding their expertise.

Each court can accept any person as an expert, and there have been instances where individuals who lack proper training and background have been declared experts. When necessary, the opponent can question potential witnesses in an attempt to show that they do not have applicable expertise and are not qualified to testify on the topic. The admissibility decision is left to the judge.

Back to top of page ▲