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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2 Comments

Filed under Experts

2 responses to “Vetting Experts – A Wake-Up Call

  1. This article is important and well done. In my role as a forensic psychologist, I have come across colleagues who have board certification from a variety of organizations. Some, like the American Board of Professional Psychology, offer a comprehensive training and education component that takes several years to complete. Others require less rigorous tests.

    In some areas, the number of times an expert who conducts evaluations may be deceptive. In criminal areas, evaluators often testify about their CST evaluations. In family court, however, it is often the poor reports that lead to more frequent testifying. Good reports often lead to settlements. Therefore, a child custody evaluator who testifies often about his/her report may be signaling that the reports are somewhat problematic. This is something an attorney should endeavor to examine.

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