Sunday, January 20, 2008

Expert Testimony on False Confessions Too Abstract, Says 5th Circuit

In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Fifth Circuit has upheld a trial court's decision excluding a criminal defendant's proffered expert evidence on false confessions. The expert's testimony, the panel said, consisted only of generic propositions; the expert failed to apply them adequately to the facts of the case. From the opinion:
Pursuant to Rule 702, testimony from a qualified expert witness is permitted if the opinion will assist the trier of fact, "the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, [] the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and [] the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case." Fed. R. Evid. 702 (emphasis added). Here, the district court determined that [the expert] added nothing more than abstract scientific nostrums. [The expert's] proffered testimony did not apply recognized or accepted principles to [the defendant's] particular circumstances. Instead, it offered only the general proposition that false confessions can occur. See United States v. Alexander, 816 F.2d 164, 169 (5th Cir. 1987) (stressing that trial court's are not required to admit generic expert testimony). Accordingly, even if the district court could have properly admitted the evidence, it was not "manifestly erroneous" to exclude it.
See United States v. Dixon, No. 06-31234 (5th Cir. Jan. 16, 2008) (King, Barksdale, & Dennis, JJ.).



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Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.