EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, September 26, 2011

Resource Of Interest: Law 101: A Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert By NCSTL

I've written before (see here and here) about the terrific work being done by the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology, and the Law (NCSTL) at the Stetson University College of Law. I now write to inform you that

Law 101:  A Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert, produced by the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology, and the Law (NCSTL) at http://www.ncstl.org, went live in August.  It is free and it is located at:  https://law101.dna.gov.   Anyone serving as an expert witness will benefit from learning the legal procedures, expectations, and principles presented in this course. There is also a text version of the Legal Guide, which is located at: https://law101.dna.gov/rawmedia_repository/9af62ee8_fd43_4041_b977_1982154535cf?document.pdf.

I had a chance to peruse the Guide this weekend, and I can say that it is a terrific resource for not only expert witnesses and attorneys working with expert witnesses but also for professors teaching a class in Evidence.

The Guide is broken down into 13 modules:

1. Sources of Scientific Evidence

2. Report Writing and Supporting Documentation

3. Importance of Case Preparation

4. Subpoenas vs. Promises to Appear

5. Affidavits

6. Being a Court-Appointed Expert

7. Discovery

8. General Testifying Tips

9. Depositions

10. Pretrial

11. Trial

12. Post-Trial, Pre-Sentencing

13. Ethics for Experts

Each of these modules is chock-full of useful information for expert witnesses, attorneys, and professors/students. For instance, in "Sources of Scientific Evidence, there is the following chain of custody checklist:

1. The field location of the item. The geographical location where the item was found or observed, including a careful log entry and, if necessary, a photograph of the location.

2. How the item was preserved. Evidence items must be bagged, packaged or otherwise handled in such a fashion that the evidentiary value is not destroyed. Appropriate containers should bear complete ID tags and labels.

3. Who was part of the chain of physical custody. Each person who handles the item should make a log entry and receipt of the fact that they handled the evidence. As the item passes from person to person, ultimately to a laboratory or storage area, a chain of receipts should be created. No question should ever exist at trial or a hearing that concerns missing items, mishandling or contamination of items, mislabeling of items, destruction of items (other than in special circumstances where destructive tests are required), or breaks in the chain of custody that might jeopardize evidence admissibility.

Meanwhile, in "Affidavits," there is a list of five circumstances in which affidavits may be used instead of a witness's in-court testimony:

1. To support an arrest warrant.

2. To present evidence to a grand jury.

3. In preliminary hearings or probable cause hearings.

4. By agreement or stipulation of the parties in a trial.

5. To provide impeachment material of the affiant, who later testifies in person.

So, if you want to build a better expert witness, attorney, or law student, by all means check out the excellent Law 101: A Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert.



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