A Legal Newsline article reports that the recently-passed Missouri legislation has raised the standard of expert witnesses permitted to testify in state court. The law, known as House Bill 153 (HB 153), will bring what is known in the legal field as the “Daubert standard” to Missouri courtrooms. This would ensure that expert testimony is both relevant and given by qualified individuals. The new guidelines would put Missouri in line with other states that have already adopted Daubert at the state level.
The Daubert Standard
Over the years, the roles of the judiciary in determining the admissibility of scientific and technical evidence provided in a case was further complicated by a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceutical, Inc. According to the American Bar Association, the ruling eliminated the prior 70-year-old test for evaluating scientific evidence first decided in Frye v. United States. Of note, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Daubert is only binding in federal courts. As a result, adoption at the state court level has been mixed.
Under Frye, when trial courts were faced with a challenge of an expert testimony, the question to address was whether the expert’s methods were generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. If the answer was yes, the evidence was admitted and the jury would decide if there were any deficiencies in the strength of the underlying science or the expert’s credentials.
Daubert, on the other hand, addressed the scientific validity of the methodology of studies offered by plaintiffs in the case. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that Frye did not survive under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and, instead, ruled that when a court is confronted with novel or scientific evidence the trial judge is required to take on the role of the “gatekeeper.” In this role, he or she must ensure the expert’s testimony is both based on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the matter. The Daubert opinion directed trial judges consider at least four factors when determining admissibility:
- The theory or technique is testable;
- The proffered work has undergone peer review;
- The rate of error is acceptable; and
- The method used is widely accepted.
Impact on Litigation
The Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers notes the new expert witness guidelines should have little, if any, impact on personal litigation. Understanding which standard your state follows regarding expert witnesses is an important factor when proffering evidence during a trial. For more information on the two standards visit the American Bar Association’s page on the issue.