Evidence Rules Amendments

By Scuro, Joseph E., Jr. | Law & Order, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Evidence Rules Amendments


Scuro, Joseph E., Jr., Law & Order


In December 2000 Congress amended Rule 701, Rule 702 and Rule 703 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. These evidentiary rules focus on the standards and tests to be applied in federal litigation where scientific and expert witness testimony is at issue. Essentially these evidentiary rules amendments were in response to three landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court addressing the admissibility of expert witness testimony and opinion in federal court proceedings.

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Chemicals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), and General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), all greatly expanded the scope of expert witness testimony and broadened the definition of which individuals qualified to offer arguably expert opinions on matters before a trial court.

The amendments to the Federal Rules of Evidence were enacted to narrow the evidence admissible from witnesses called as experts as well as to apply more stringent tests as to those offered opinions and testimony. Even prior to their effective date, the amendments to Rule 701, Rule 702 and Rule 703 sparked considerable controversy that exists to this day. Inevitably, the U.S. Supreme Court will address the legal import of these newly amended rules and their practical impact in federal criminal and civil trials.

The impact of the amendments to these Federal Rules of Evidence as they relate to scientific-expert witness testimony, as well as the consequences practically of the Daubert, supra, Kumho, supra, and Joiner, supra, decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court sparked considerable debate and discussion at the annual meeting of the "National Conference on Science and the Law" held in October 2000, in San Diego, CA. It was comprised of scientists and attorneys from around the country and offered suggested input on revisions of the Federal Rules of Evidence as they related to scientific and expert witness testimony.

The conference, which was sponsored by the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association, and the National Center for State Courts in collaboration with the Federal Judicial Center and the National Academy of Sciences, offered several responses to these recent developments, including its Proposed Federal Rules of Evidence.

These proposals and suggested revisions to the Federal Rules of Evidence dealing with the issue of scientific-expert witness testimonial evidence are presented only as an example of the trend that may be developing in this area, having significant impact on criminal justice matters and civil litigation that involves law enforcement agencies. Although not adopted as procedural and evidentiary law requirements, the Proposed Federal Rules of Evidence indicate a trend that may have future impact and consequences on law enforcement and other legal issues. …

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