April 2014 eJournal - Pg 4
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
I cannot recall how many times I have reviewed police reports and discovered that the cops misinterpreted the evidence. I personally work on several shooting scene reconstructions per year. I am brought on to the case to provide this expertise because more often than not, the police investigation was either substandard or skewed to validate an early theory. I provided expert witness services in one case in which the police investigation was so poorly done that no measurements were taken of the scene, no sketch made of the scene, no video taken of the scene, and the investigation was documented only by a few unidentified photographs. To complicate matters, the person who was shot lived and told a completely different story than that of the defendant.
Oh, how nice a professional investigation would have been! In addition, I think back to a case I worked on in which multiple individuals were shot. The shooting scene was at least photographed extensively (although no photo log was made) and it was at least videotaped (although amateurishly done), however the investigation was conducted with only one idea in mind: to convict the shooter of murder. It fell to me to point out the biased investigation to the jury and allow for an alternate theory of self defense. We ended up with a hung jury on this legitimate self-defense case, and the defendant was offered a plea bargain for a deferred prosecution for a very low level felony, which he accepted to avoid facing trial again. Statistically, re-trials end in convictions, because the second time around, the prosecutor knows and prepares to counter the exact evidence the defense will raise. Knowing that, I believed the plea to the low level felony was a pretty decent outcome.
In addition to the shooting scene reconstructionist, there is a valued role for the true firearms/ballistic expert, who may be needed to explain issues relating to the gun itself and any firearms-related evidence such as gunshot stippling, gunshot residue, bullet trajectories and more. Additionally, our hypothetical case needs an expert who can explain the dynamics of violent encounters. His or her testimony will explain how quickly a person can turn, how quickly shots can be fired, the lag time between deciding to fire and firing the shot and the inability of a person to “call back the shot” once that fire stimulus has been activated. For more information on these topics, you owe it to yourself to visit the Force Science Research website at www.forcescience.org and read the published articles associated with the page.
Another expert who might prove valuable is a psychologist or expert in a related science who specializes in memory distortions, witness dynamics and other physio-psychological phenomena occurring during shooting incidents. This person can explain to the jury why the witness testifying against you can honestly be mistaken as to what happened, or he or she can explain why you are absolutely telling the truth although your memory of the incident doesn’t jibe with statements from the other witnesses or the physical evidence.
Finally, since this was a shooting case, it is likely that the investigation will turn up blood evidence and you will need a bloodstain pattern expert to explain this aspect. It is not unusual for experts to be cross trained in several of these fields and able to testify to many different aspects of the case, but it is usually better to have separate experts to call, instead of relying on only one person to provide expert testimony on a variety of topics.
In the hypothetical story we told, you faced the necessity of shooting someone without overwhelming evidence to show your justification. In a situation like that, you will likely need a full legal team working hard to prove your innocence. The good news for Network members? The team is ready and standing by to help you if you need us.
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