Monthly Archives: December 2014

Vetting Experts – A Wake-Up Call

A recent meeting with a supposed forensic psychology expert reminded me of the importance of attorneys always vetting their own experts. This individual was referred to me by another trusted expert. After our initial meeting, I started looking in to his credentials and quickly learned that he did not have a Ph.D. and was not licensed to practice in North Carolina. His claim that he testified in a high-profile case was untrue, and he did not have the work experience that he claimed to have.

It only took a few phone calls to uncover this information, and it was a reminder of how important it is to verify the credentials of experts. Even if an expert comes recommended by a trusted attorney or expert, the attorney hiring the expert must vet the expert herself. Some attorneys think that experts listed in the IDS Database of Experts are approved by IDS. This is not the case. Indigent Defense Services simply does not have the staff to vet the hundreds of experts who are included in the database and continue to research these experts to monitor for any issues that may arise.

Below are a few steps that attorneys can take to verify the credentials of experts. Attorneys should discuss the questions below with the expert and verify the information independently. Additional information on researching experts is available on the IDS Forensic Website.

  1. Licensure: Is the expert licensed to practice in NC? By what board? When did he or she become licensed and are there any disciplinary issues currently or recently affecting his or her license? Attorneys can verify licensure of psychologists (NC Psychology Board) and medical doctors (NC Medical Board) online.
  2. Board Certification: Is the expert board certified as a specialist in the field? How long has he or she been certified? If certification, proficiency testing, or other exams have been attempted, what were the results? This website can be used to check to see whether an medical doctor is certified in any specialty.
  3. Education and publications: Does the expert have the educational degree they claim to have? Some universities will provide that information – others will refer attorneys to the National Student Clearinghouse. An expert’s name can be searched in PubMed to find a list of biomedical literature publications.
  4. Forensic training: what mentoring/supervision has the expert had regarding forensic work? Attorneys can call these mentors or supervisors to verify this information and learn more about the expert.
  5. Testimony: How many times has the expert testified as an expert witness? Has a court ever found the expert was not qualified to testify or limited the testimony? A search of LexisNexis or WestLaw will identify any published opinions addressing the expert’s testimony.
  6. Other issues: Is there any personal or professional information that could be used as impeachment material or to disqualify the expert? Does the expert have any criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, including DWI cases, in any state?

In addition to answering these questions, attorneys may need to verify additional information listed on the expert’s CV. Finally, attorneys may want to review transcripts of the expert’s prior testimony. Attorneys can contact Sarah Rackley Olson for assistance in locating such transcripts.

While following these step will not guarantee that the expert has nothing to hide, these are the minimum steps that an attorney should take to ferret out whether the expert is being forthcoming about his or her qualifications. This type of research also can be helpful in identifying weaknesses in the qualifications of the state’s expert witnesses.

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Does a psychology expert need to be licensed in NC?

Attorneys may need the services of a psychologist to evaluate whether a client is competent to stand trial, to present evidence regarding a mental health defense or mitigation, or to perform other psychological testing of a client. Attorneys have asked me whether a psychologist needs to be licensed in NC to perform these services. I’ll attempt to answer below.

In a capital case, if the defense seeks to establish that the defendant is mentally retarded, NC General Statutes require that the IQ test be administered by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-2005 (2014).

For other types of psychological services, the N.C. Psychology Practice Act sets standards for practicing psychology in North Carolina, and includes requirements for education, examination, supervision, and licensing. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-270 (2013). The Act allows certain types of consultation and testimony to be provided by a non-licensed psychologist. For example, if testimony is needed regarding the characteristics of a particular mental health disorder, this type of general information could be provided by a non-licensed psychologist. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-270.4(a). However, if the case requires that the expert conduct any testing or evaluation of the defendant, the expert would need to be a licensed psychologist because this work would involve the provision of psychological services to an individual.

The Act includes an exemption that allows for psychologists licensed outside of North Carolina to practice within the state. Psychologists licensed in other states can apply for an exemption to practice psychology, including the provision of health services, in North Carolina for either five or 30 days in any calendar year. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-270.4(f). The psychologist should contact the North Carolina Psychology Board to apply for this limited right to practice in North Carolina.

Though there may be limited circumstances in which a psychologist who does not have a license may provide expert services in North Carolina, it is advisable for attorneys to use a licensed psychologist or to consult with the NC Psychology Board to determine whether the use of a non-licensed psychologist is permissible. Attorneys can visit the NC Psychology Board’s website to verify whether a psychologist has an active license in North Carolina and whether there are any disciplinary issues currently or recently impacting their licensure.

 

 

 

 

http://reports.oah.state.nc.us/ncac/title%2021%20-%20occupational%20licensing%20boards%20and%20commissions/chapter%2054%20-%20psychology/21%20ncac%2054%20.2806.pdf

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