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An expert witness gives a testimony due to their educational background, experience, knowledge, training and skills they possess which exceed those of an average person. Most cases for example murder cases are most likely to require expert evidence than other cases or allegations. Due to the seriousness that such cases might involve, expert witnesses are sort after to provide the necessary expert opinion and evidence that will help in solving the cases. With advances that have taken place in the world in recent years, experts now cover a very large spectrum of issues.
Most of these advances are related to technology and can be used for identification purposes which will include identifying fingerprints, voice analysis, analyzing DNA, handwriting analysis, fiber analysis among others with the aim of recreating the crime scene and also in order to assess the mental and physical state of the parties involved. This might be relating to toxicology, psychology, pathology and even psychiatry. The need for expert evidence in some cases is obvious and is especially justified if the jury has no knowledge and experience of the matter.
Recently, a new trial was granted to a Texas mother who had drowned her children in 2001, and this was because of an inaccurate testimony by an expert witness who as a psychiatrist. These events can be said to highlight the important role that psychiatrists often play in the courtroom. The psychiatrists that are made expert witnesses are often expected to provide factual support for their opinions and this can only be done through adequate preparation. Expert psychiatric testimony can be said to be critical when it comes to psychiatric malpractice litigation, as well as the use of insanity in different criminal cases. The laws covering the testimony often differ from state court to state court and also in the federal court and consequently, it is important that the expert be aware of the differences that exist.
The role of the psychiatrist as an expert witness is to shine the light regarding psychiatric science and the clinical knowledge in regards to a certain legal question. It is unrealistic to assume that indeed the psychiatric expert witness will be completely impartial. However, the expert witness should strive to approach the case with what can be described as an impartial attitude. Once the comprehensive analysis has been able to produce a well reason opinion, and then it becomes only human to identify with one’s opinion.
When taking the witness stand, the psychiatric expert must strive to impartially preserve the truth. Further, relevant information regarding the case should not be kept secret. In fact, there is a need for the expert to guard against a sense of loyalty towards the retaining attorney, and this might often cause a temptation to go with an objective expert to being an advocate. The blatant advocacy in many cases is often easily recognized by the trier of facts and it in many cases reduces the credibility of the expert.
It is important to comprehend that the psychiatrist should not go beyond the available data or even the scholarly foundations of his or her testimony. An ethical psychiatrist expert can be said to enhance the credibility by appropriately recognizing the facts of the case that are hostile to his opinion, this also includes the hypothetical situations under which his or her opinion would be different.
There are several advantages and disadvantages that come with an expert psychiatric witness. One of the major advantages that an expert testimony provides is it allows any present complex knowledge and language to be understood by an average person. Terms that are used in fields of psychiatry are broken down and explained in a language that is easy to understand. By using simpler language that can be understood by all, time and effort that would otherwise be used to understand the complex terms involved is saved and can be directed to other areas (Kuhne 26).
When an expert testimony is sort, it creates a feeling of fairness for the involved parties. The advantage here is that the expert witness can be able to address all issues that are of concern to the parties and hence give a possibility of a fair and clean trial whereby all presentation is made and it is easy to make any form of judgment from the information gathered based on the expertise of the expert witness.
Another advantage of a psychiatric expert witness is that they can give strength to an argument. Experts have vast knowledge of their fields and can, therefore, provide information that can alter a case completely. It is almost impossible to object to a fact. If an expert witness gives a testimony that is indeed factual, it leads to a strong argument, one that is difficult to change (Bowers 20).
An expert witness could be allowed to provide visual aids. This may include photographs, treaties, models and designs that they can use to support their facts or points as they present them during a hearing. By providing visual aid, the expert witnesses allow a visual impact to be made to the present jury.
Expert witnesses can provide a testimony that is based on data and information that may not be admitted as evidence during a trial. Even psychiatric expert has faults, and this has been evidenced by the Texas case stated above. It is, therefore, true that there exist disadvantages for having an expert witness. One of the cons that exist is that a psychiatric expert witness can make an argument weak. This contradicts with the earlier statement that a psychiatric expert opinion strengthens an argument, but it is very true as well. If for instance an expert is faced with questions that he or she is not familiar with and they provide information that is substandard, then in this case a strong counsel will use it to discredit any information they provide and hence make the argument weak.
Even with their vast knowledge and experiences, experts could make errors and as we know very well mistakes are there and even the smartest people them. It is, therefore, a disadvantage if an expert makes any errors knowingly or unconsciously.
Sometimes psychiatric experts can be biased and give information based on what they believe as individuals and do away with facts that exist, and this is a huge disadvantage for the parties involved.
When selecting a psychiatric expert witness, it is necessary to look for one who has significant knowledge and is skilled in the field that the case involves. By having an expert with great expertise, the possibility of weakening the case is minimal, and it is difficult for even the strongest counsel to pull him down and make his testimony irrelevant to the case.
It is of importance for a case that requires an expert witness to do. By providing an expert and hearing their expert opinion, even the jury can make sound decisions especially when they have no understanding or experience in the field that the case involves. It also provides an edge of fairness for the accused and any other parties involved (Rossi 91).
In some instances, experts may provide information that is biased, and this should be discouraged in every way possible as it could lead to an unfair trial and condemning of innocent people. It is good that the expert witness has no personal relationship with anyone involved in the case be it the attorney, the jury, the accused or any other relevant parties. A professional relationship is not a problem and cannot be discouraged as long as it is just that.
When selecting an expert witness, it is the duty of the people making the selection to do a background analysis and know if the witness is capable of providing ethical, unbiased, reliable and factual testimony during a hearing. This serves to guard the well-being of the parties involved and even for a fair trial in the administration of justice. It is advisable to consider the ethics of an expert witness and their impartiality (Horne 23).
In conclusion, the advantages of having a psychiatric expert witness in court greatly outweigh the disadvantages. It is, therefore, important that an expert witness be given in Court in order to better understand the witness psychologically, and this can only be provided by the psychiatric expert witness.
Bowers, C. M. Forensic testimony: Science, law and expert evidence. 2013. Print
Fawcett-Delesandri, M. Paralegal litigation: Forms and procedures. New York: Aspen Law & Business. 2000. Print.
Horne, R., & Mullen, J. The expert witness in construction. 2013. Print.
Kuhne, C. C., & American Bar Association. A litigator's guide to expert witnesses. Chicago, Ill: ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section. 2006. Print.
Rossi, F. F. Expert witnesses. Chicago, Ill: Section of Litigation, American Bar Association. 1991. Print
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