In a split 4-3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court soundly rejected the Daubert standard of evidence for expert witness testimony – the one used in federal courts and adopted by many state courts, in favor of the less stringent Frye standard, the older method that prior to 2013 had been the standard in the Sunshine State.
What does this mean for Fort Lauderdale criminal defendants? It will be relevant both for them as well as for plaintiffs in civil cases. The Daubert standard establishes a rule of evidence (found in Federal Rules of Evidence 702) that pertains to the admissibility of an expert witness’s testimony, stemming from the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. It holds that a witness can only be qualified as an expert if he or she has the knowledge, skill, experience, training or education that is considered a baseline to form that opinion. Testimony must meet a specific list of criteria, and the judge acts as the gatekeeper. Those whose opinions fail to meet that proof burden can be excluded.
Frye, meanwhile, is less stringent, considered a general acceptance test for scientific evidence requiring that one’s expert opinion, if based on a scientific technique, can only be admitted where that technique is “generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community.”
For criminal defendants, this means the state can introduce expert witness testimony – such as those based in forensics like DNA analysis or traffic accident reconstruction – without having to clear the more stringent hurdles set forth in Daubert. But it also means defense expert witnesses also need not clear those same hurdles.
Testimony from expert witnesses can prove critical in both criminal and civil cases, particularly complex matters where the testimony is based on scientific evidence.
DeLisle v. Crane Co. Reverses 2013 Florida Law Requiring Daubert Standard
In the Florida Supreme Court case of DeLisle v. Crane Co., the court reversed a ruling out of a Broward County case by the 4th District Court of Appeal, ordering the reinstatement of an $8 million verdict for a plaintiff in a mesothelioma case who alleged liability of a manufacturer of cigarette filters.
The reversal will be especially relevant in civil cases, where it was championed by pro-business groups and opposed by plaintiff attorneys. The court held that state lawmakers’ efforts to establish more stringent standards for court case expert witnesses was unconstitutional in that it violated the principle of separation of powers. Only justices, the court held, have the authority to set forth procedures for the court system.
Justices ruled that while Frye is reliant on the scientific community to ascertain the reliability of witness methodology, Daubert leans on the scientific savvy of a judge.
The ruling was not unanimous, and a sharp dissent was penned by the state high court’s chief judge, who argued the court had no legal basis on which to issue the ruling because there had not been an existing conflict in lower courts. They argued the majority ruling was both “unprecedented” and “ill-advised” in that respect.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
DeLisle v. Crane Co., Oct. 15, 2018, Florida Supreme Court
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