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to see that results and conclusions are not misstated or
mischaracterized by counsel.
Question 5: What are the most common tactics used to
discredit a witness?
There are several common methods that attorneys rely
on to impeach a witness. Of course, any obvious untruth
will be immediately pointed out to the jury. Misleading
or falsified qualifications, for example, will be uncovered
by diligent attorneys or pointed out by other experts
involved in the case. It is imperative that the expert
state qualifications correctly and without embellishment. There have been experts who have been removed
from their positions and even charged with perjury for
claiming degrees and training that they did not receive.
Impeaching a witness using previous statements or
testimony is often used if the witness has provided an
interpretation of the facts or findings in a way that is
different from previous testimony in the current or
previous cases. There may be a reasonable explanation
for this difference, but the expert must be aware of the
apparently contradictory statements and be prepared to
explain why the current case differs from prior circumstances. If the expert cannot offer such an explanation,
the jury will likely consider the testimony biased and may
even believe the expert is untruthful. Both are disastrous
View Elaine Pagliaro’s webinar on “What
Makes a Credible Witness?” on demand
Hear an excerpt of the webinar HERE.
A witness who is obviously
biased will be challenged consistently and extensively by an attorney. Since expert witnesses are
supposed to be unbiased as they
assist a jury in understanding a
fact at issue, experts who obviously interpret data with a bias
will be brought to task. Sometimes the experts may not even
be aware of the bias inherent in
their conclusions; this so-called
contextual bias and its effects
on expert analysis has been the
subject of extensive study in
recent years. The credible expert
will work diligently to evaluate a
case without bias, establish procedures to account for contextual
bias, and remove language from
reports and testimony that may
inappropriately favor one side of
the dispute over another.
As these questions show, most
experts want to provide accu-
rate testimony. They want to observe appropriate legal
protocols while maintaining scientific integrity. This
is not really a difficult thing. Credible experts will be
well prepared for court, have extensive knowledge of
their subject matter, and understand their role in court
proceedings. By presenting their findings in a clear and
concise manner without concern about which “side”
will benefit from their answers, credible expert witnesses
benefit the trier of fact and the justice system.
Elaine M. Pagliaro, M.S., J.D. is Director of Research and
Grants at the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science.
She has worked many years as a forensic scientist and adjunct
faculty member at several colleges and universities. Henry
C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science, 300 Boston Post Road,
West Haven, CT 06516; email@example.com
Cross-examination can be tricky. There are two types of questions often
asked to catch you off guard, whereby attempting to discredit your
1. Ambiguous Question: This type of question is designed to have a
double meaning. Therefore, no matter how you answer, it can be turned
around and used against you. The solution is to request clarification or
ask for the question to be rephrased before attempting to answer.
2. Two-part Question: This type of question is usually asked because the
person asking it is knowingly aware that one part of the question is obviously true and the other part is obviously false. Therefore, if you attempt
to answer both parts of the question at the same time, you will be caught
in a “Catch 22.” The solution is to answer only one part of the question.
Select which part of the question you would like to answer, then simply
state, “Since this is a two-part question, let me answer the (first/second)
part.” Do not automatically start to answer the other part of the question
when you finish the first part. Let the other part of the question be redirected to you.
Once you have deciphered which type of question you are being asked,
thoroughly think through your answer before speaking, and then answer
From: Expert Witness: Effective Courtroom Testimony By Stevee Ashlock