In the context of a trial, oftentimes the jury’s verdict will turn on the strength or weakness of a party’s expert witnesses. As a trial attorney, it can be very challenging when a Judge precludes you from calling an expert witness on behalf of your client. Case-law suggests that as long as certain basic standards are met, the Courts should allow a party to call an expert witness in support of his/her case.
An example of the general rule that Courts should allow experts was seen in a recent upstate case. In that case,Kimberly Hurrell-Harring et al., v. State of New York, the plaintiffs were claiming that they were being denied the right to counsel in criminal cases as a result of systemic failures in defendant State of New York’s public defense system. The plaintiffs tried to use expert witnesses to testify as to the prevailing professional standards governing the provision of legal representation to indigent criminal defendants and whether the structure and operation of the public defense systems in the five counties meets those standards. The Judge at the trial court, precluded the plaintiffs from calling the experts. Thankfully, the appellate courts saw it differently. The Court reasoned that the Supreme Court should not have precluded the testimony of the experts. “Under familiar rules, expert opinions are admissible on subjects involving professional or scientific knowledge or skill not within the range of ordinary training or intelligence” of the trier of fact. Here, the experts possess the requisite skill, training, education, knowledge and/or experience to qualify as experts on the operation of indigent defense systems and the evaluation of such systems in light of prevailing professional standards. By virtue of their extensive experience, the experts possess specialized knowledge with respect to the operation of public defense systems, the professional standards applicable to such systems, and the impact of systemic shortcomings on the provision of counsel to indigent criminal defendants at all critical stages. Such particularized knowledge is, manifestly, beyond that of a typical Supreme Court Justice.