Clueless About Expert Witnesses?

In Accounting & Finances, Business on January 18, 2018 by Sufen Wang

Here’s How to Find the Best Forensic Expert for Your Case

“Forensic expert” is a hot buzzword that’s been floating around, specifically in the last few years. This professional is an expert witness who can provide you with forensic testimony at a trial. But what actually makes a forensic expert, an expert? And how do you go about choosing the right one? Get your detective kit out, because you’re going to have to do a little snooping.

First and foremost, your forensic expert must be able to play by the rules, and specifically Federal Rules of Evidence 702. If you want him to testify, he must have specialized “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” such that this knowledge “will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence.” Although the “or” technically means your expert only needs to possess one of the above, the more boxes he can check off, the better. Plus, the evidence code varies in some states, so if your potential forensic expert can’t stand up to your off-the-record cross-examination of his qualifications, he’s not likely to win one for you on the stand.

The above rules are just a basic starting point. Ideally, your forensic expert should have a full skill set beyond those generalized requirements. He should also be able:

  • To write a detailed report – If what he tells you in-person sounds great, but his writing reads like a dime novel, you’ll probably want to continue your candidate search.
  • To verbally explain his opinion if he gets called to testify at trial – If his writing is great, but the cat’s got his tongue when he talks, you’ll probably want to continue your candidate search.
  • To present his opinion in layman’s terms, both in writing and out loud – If he’s a pretentious expert who uses over-the-top jargon and technical terms that make it impossible for anybody except himself and other experts to understand what he wrote and said, you’ll probably want to continue your candidate search.

To speed up the weeding-out process, you can start with good old social media. Google your potential forensic expert and see what comes up. If you find pictures of all-night parties or complaints from past clients, you’re gonna’ wanna’ pass. Check out the supposed expert’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc., paying especial attention to his professional organizations, his education history, where he was trained, etc. Many professionals now proudly post their full CVs online, which is a goldmine of information that you can cross-check.

The trick is to think about your forensic expert like opposing counsel will surely be thinking about him: is there any juicy tidbit that could potentially impeach him as your witness? If there is, on to the next one! If you’re lucky, as a bonus, your research might turn up info about the opposing examiner that can be used during the trial.

Once you find info on your forensic expert, don’t actually believe that data until you can confirm it. For example, if his CV says he has forensic credentials, make sure you double-check those credentials. See if the granting organization really offers them. You might discover that the expert gave himself a “Best Forensic Expert” cup and decided he could reword that and add it to his CV.

Secondly, make sure the organization itself is reputable. There are way too many places online that will issue a “Forensic Consultant Certificate” faster than you can make a grilled cheese sandwich. This will require you to get smart on reputable organizations and valid certifications in the forensics field in question. For example, in the document examination field, the Board of Forensic Document Examination, American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, The National Association of Document Examiners, and the Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners are all well-known choices.

You can also dig a little deeper into the forensic expert’s choice of trade organization. Not all trade organizations are created equal, and they can reveal a lot of about your expert’s integrity. For example, in registered 501c(6) not-for-profit organizations, the members must subscribe to a code of ethics – which is a very, very good thing. You know that the members of those organizations generally aren’t in it for the moolah, but rather for education, networking, and maintaining currency in the field. Then you’ve got for-profit businesses just pretending to be certifying organizations. These certificate mills churn out examiners with little or no experience and inflated resumes.

In short, do your homework and take advantage of all the info that is now publicly available online.

If the forensic expert is passing muster so far, you’ll want to hear things from his own mouth – as a trial run for the trial. He needs to be both honest and accurate; there’s no room for mistakes when it comes to talking about his experience in his field of expertise. If he’s fumbling when you’re casually asking him about his background, he’s going to get crushed when grilled by an attorney during deposition and cross-examination, which could completely compromise your case.

If you get tired while doing all this research, just remember that the parties on the other side of your case are going to be doing their homework on your guy as well. And, if you take the time to do your due diligence, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a well-qualified, reliable forensic expert. Best of all, you can give yourself a “Best Forensic Expert Finder” mug after you win the case.

Sufen Wang, M.S.Accountancy
Wang Solutions, Long Beach, CA (562) 856-0793
Editor: Hannah Huff, M.F.A. Creative Writing: Poetry, (626) 806-5805

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