Forensics Expert Testimony Training

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts that defendants have a right to cross-examine forensic laboratory analysts in criminal cases. Before Melendez-Diaz, it was common for analysts to submit reports of forensic findings without appearing in court. The Melendez-Diaz decision, however, determined that a laboratory report could not be admitted into evidence in place of live testimony. The Court ruled that under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, forensic scientists who perform laboratory testing and analysis for the prosecution and submit a report must be made available for testimony in court.

Melendez-Diaz has far-reaching implications for the forensic and legal communities, but one of its practical outcomes is that forensic experts who conduct testing and analysis for criminal cases must be prepared to testify in court on the results of the testing.

The prospect of giving expert testimony can be intimidating, and preparation is critical. A new self-paced, online training course from NIJ, "Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert," is intended to help specialists prepare to give testimony in court. Although designed for forensic experts, it can be helpful to any witness who has limited experience testifying in court. It is particularly useful for specialists who have little knowledge of the criminal justice process.

In the first three months after it was released, approximately 500 people took the training, putting it on track to become one of National Institute of Justice's most popular online courses.

The course provides 13 modules and this introduction which is designed to give a comprehensive discussion of recommended practices for the forensic expert to follow when preparing for and testifying in court.

Because laws may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, experts are advised to check with local attorney(s) and become familiar with the laws applicable in the court where they will testify.

Modules in "Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert"

1. Sources of Scientific Evidence
2. Report Writing and Supporting Documentation
3. Importance of Case Preparation
4. Subpoenas vs. Promises to Appear
5. Affidavits
6. Being a Court-Appointed Expert
7. Discovery
8. General Testifying Tips
9. Depositions
10. Pretrial
11. Trial
12. Post-Trial, Pre-Sentencing
13. Ethics for Experts

Click Here To Access The Course.

About the Author

Doris Wells is a writer and editor at the National Institute of Justice.

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