Yes. If you are charged with a crime, you have the right to an attorney. Your attorney has a duty to represent you to the best of their ability. This means that, in some cases, they must consult with expert witnesses. It’s important that your defense attorney has access to these experts.
They can help the attorney understand complicated issues involved in the case. And they can also testify at trial. In some cases, a good expert can be the difference between a guilty and a not-guilty verdict.
What is expert testimony in a criminal case?
In most cases, the jury considers evidence and testimony from witnesses. Common examples of evidence include things like the murder weapon and bloody clothes. Testimony from witnesses usually includes what the witnesses saw or heard. Witnesses ordinarily cannot give opinions though.
But the rules of evidence allow opinions in two situations: (1) a lay opinion and (2) an expert opinion. A lay opinion is an opinion anyone could give. An example might be when a witness testifies that a car was going “very fast” when the driver fled the scene of a crime. Another example might be when a witness testifies that someone was around six feet tall.
Expert testimony is different. This opinion testimony comes from people who are actual experts. They become experts through experience and education. And they offer opinions about a specific area of science, trade, art or other topic. In criminal cases, experts help the jury understand the complicated science that police and the prosecution use.
What do experts testify about for the defense?
In criminal cases, defense experts are very important. To begin, you often need an expert who can go up against the prosecution’s expert. Imagine that the prosecution’s expert testifies that DNA analysis put you at the scene. Or they could testify that they found your fingerprints on the murder weapon. A defense expert can challenge that testimony.
Sometimes, defense experts need to explain why the prosecution’s expert is wrong. The prosecution’s expert might say your fingerprints were on the murder weapon. They might say this even though you have an alibi. A defense expert can explain why this testimony is false. But, even if the testimony isn’t false, a defense expert can still help. They can explain why it’s unreliable or shouldn’t impact the jury’s decision.
There are many different topics the defense might want to access an expert for. Examples include experts on DNA testing, fingerprinting, breathalyzers and other forensic science. Other examples might include experts drug identification, gang affiliation, and firearms and ballistics.
What if your defense attorney can’t afford an expert?
Experts aren’t cheap. Most charge hundreds of dollars an hour. They charge for providing testimony in court. But they also charge for the time they spend looking at case materials and preparing for court, too. For some high-profile cases, attorneys spend tens of thousands of dollars on experts.
But, if you don’t have enough money to afford an expert, the court should provide some resources for you to find one. This is likely if you have a court-appointed lawyer. The court might not provide as much money for experts as you would like. But something is better than nothing. In fact, some states have specific offices to help with indigent defense. A good example is North Carolina’s Office of Indigent Defense Services.
If you are charged with a crime, you have the right to an attorney. And your attorney has the ability to hire experts to help with your case. If you can’t afford to pay those experts, the court should provide you resources to do so.