Domestic Violence Expert Testimony in Arizona
Rewind time back to 2017 and the Arizona Supreme Court issued an important decision regarding the admissibility of expert testimony pertaining to domestic violence charges. The court limited the admissibility of certain “cold” testimony provided by experts. This is an important ruling for those accused of domestic violence or assault as the prosecutor might try to use such “cold” testimony from expert witnesses to prove alleged guilt.
“Cold” Expert Witness Testimony
The Arizona Supreme Court ruling detailed above raised some eyebrows as the use of “cold” witness testimony from the experts and profiling evidence were not always admissible in years past. The ruling sets the stage for individual courts to determine whether “cold” expert witness testimony is admissible in court.
The court is to consider the objectivity of the witness, the relevance of the testimony, the content, and the rules of criminal evidence when making such a decision. If improper testimony from a supposed expert witness is admitted to the court, it might set the stage for a guilty verdict that is unfair. This is precisely why specific challenges must be made to the admissibility of testimony from planned expert witnesses.
An Explanation of Cold Experts
Cold experts are those who describe a witness that testifies pertaining to a subject to provide the jury with important insight. However, this insight is applicable to a specific topic as opposed to the nuanced facts of the case. Arizona’s Rule of Criminal Evidence 702 permits the testimony of a witness with the expertise necessary to help jury members better comprehend specific subject matter for the purposes of fact-finding.
The admissibility of testimony from a cold expert is not to be automatic. Rather, there must be analytical support for cold expert testimony to be permitted. This testimony must be unbiased, within the scope of the individual’s expertise, and prove applicable within the boundaries established by the Arizona Rules of Criminal Evidence.
Why Cold Expert Witness Testimony is Permitted
Cold expert witness testimony is allowed in certain cases yet it has the potential to be limited to a specific list of highly general questions. This framework was established through an Arizona Supreme Court case ruling in which the state desired to provide the jury with victims’ perspectives pertaining to an incident that spurred charges. The ruling led to a guilty verdict. However, the defense team argued the testimony in question should not have been admitted in court as it constituted profiling evidence.
The Arizona Supreme Court insisted the profile evidence was provided to show the defendant had characteristics of an individual engaged in a specific type of activity. Therefore, the prosecution was precluded from relying on profile evidence to prove supposed guilt. The logic in the court’s ruling is that if such profile evidence were used, it would present a conviction risk for the actions of others as opposed to the defendant’s actions. Though expert testimony that details a victim’s inconsistencies is permissible in the context of gauging his or her credibility, the questions asked of the expert in the case referenced above were meant to make it easier for the jury to understand the seemingly illogical behaviors of victims who are mired in an abusive relationship.
The Prejudicial Effect of the Testimony
The Arizona Supreme Court’s explanation pointed to the slight prejudice in the testimony in question. This subtle prejudice did not eliminate the value of the testimony in the context of probate. The ruling stated that Arizona courts must consider expert testimony’s overarching prejudicial effect as well as the effect of each individual statement made by the expert providing the testimony. The court stated an abundance of caution must be used when determining if such evidence can be admitted. Furthermore, this expert testimony should is to be admitted to a limited extent.