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A Bill Goes to Gov. Nixon Adding Rules for Expert Witness Testim - KOAM TV 7

A Bill Goes to Gov. Nixon Adding Rules for Expert Witness Testimony

Updated:
Joplin, MO -

     A bill headed to Governor Jay Nixon  would create tighter controls on who is allowed to testify as an expert witness in Missouri courts.  A local trial lawyer argues it would bog down the court system while a prosecutor says it's needed.

 If Missouri’s governor signs Senate bill 591, expert witnesses will get tighter scrutiny making the judge a gatekeeper on what information goes to the jury.

Katrina Richards an attorney with the Hershewe Law Firm argues, “What has been a trend in our legislatures is to take the power away from juries.

And I think when juries are allowed to hear the evidence in the case, they get it right ninety-nine percent of the time.”

Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney Dean Dankelson says, “We do trust the juries to weigh evidence that lay witnesses present,  this is expert testimony only, this is our scientist coming  in and telling our juries this is something you don't understand because it requires a scientist to understand   it so let’s make sure the  scientists are correct before  we  present it to the juries and tell the juries to rely on it." 

Missouri courts would use federal standards defined by a case called Daubert.  Not Missouri precedent.

Richards contends it will limit peoples access to the courts by creating expensive delays.

She said, "They're already bogged down and underfunded , unless the Missouri  legislature is going to come up with a whole lot more money to hire more judges and clerks for these judges to go through all this data, what it’s gonna do is extend the amount of time before people see the inside of a courtroom."

Prosecuting attorney Dean Dankelson does agree it could create more work for local judges but says it’s worth it.

Dankelson said, " If it ensures that the information we're presenting to the jury is proper, and it is the most scientifically reliable, I think that little bit of extra work is worth doing."

Richards says her firm already vets its experts and says  Missouri already has quality controls that work because opposing council can cross examine witnesses before judge and jury.

Richards said, "In open court, the jury gets to hear  the attorney ask him,  ‘Well, wasn't this research funded  by this defendant’s  corporation?’ In Daubert that information doesn't necessarily go in front of the jury to decide that well funded research may have a bias to it."

Whether Missouri makes the switch is in the hands of Governor Nixon

A local lawmaker who voted in favor of the bill said it ensures testimony isn't based on junk science or conjecture.

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