Attorney Question Of The Month

This month, one of our affiliated attorneys posed a series of interesting questions about use of expert witnesses. He asked the other attorneys–

Have you ever hired an expert for a self-defense case, and what did you need him or her to do?

How did you find the expert and how much did their services cost?

Was the expert allowed to testify? If not, why not?

While not a lot of attorneys responded to the question, we think you will share our interest in the responses our affiliated attorneys offered. Here is what they wrote—

Mark Seiden
Mark Seiden, PA
3948 3rd St. South, Ste. 387, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250-5847
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I have hired experts in numerous self-defense cases. The first one I ever hired was Massad Ayoob, who did a superb and professional job in every case he was called upon to testify in. Mas testified as to aspects of weapon retention, disparity of force, body alarm reaction, reaction times, weapon operation, weapon characteristics and various other matters in the multiple cases he was retained on.

I have also called medical examiners, trauma surgeons, psychologists, gunshot residue experts, toxicologists, shooting reconstructionists and bloodstain pattern analysts, depending on the case.

All of the experts were permitted to testify, except one psychologist regarding the battered woman syndrome. We won that case, so the admissibility of her testimony was never decided on appeal.

I find my experts by attending seminars, reading, the Internet, referrals and personal contacts.

The cost of hiring experts varies according to the expert and their credentials. Most are in the $300/hour and up range.

Adam Schultz
The Law Office of Adam J. Schultz
201 W 8th, Ste. 350, Pueblo, CO 81003
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Yes, I have used experts in self-defense cases before. Marty was the best one I’ve worked with.

There are a couple of areas that expert testimony can be useful, depending on how the defense is put together. Often times the physical evidence is the most compelling, and it is necessary to get a ballistics expert to explain trajectory, bullet deformation, ejection pattern type evidence – either to draw your own picture or to dismantle the prosecution’s lie.

Sometimes it is necessary to get a tool mark expert to analyze shell casings and bullets to sort out their origin, to determine sequence, to particularize the evidence, etc. Sometimes it is necessary to get someone who can talk about the mental and physical dynamics of a use of force situation – describe the body’s physiological response as it affects the mental process so that jurors have a true understanding of what “reasonable” is under the circumstances that the defendant was facing when acting. Sometimes it is necessary to get someone who can explain the training and the purpose of training that a person may have had – to explain actions in conformity, etc.

These are often very difficult experts to find. Usually the people who are legitimately in these situations and have the requisite experience are law enforcement officers or ex-law enforcement officers who view themselves as “US” and usually the people we defend are folks who – by definition – have been charged with very serious crimes and viewed by potential experts as “THEM.” For example, AFTE (American Firearms and Tool Mark Examiners) have appointed themselves the gold standard in that discipline but they only let law enforcement officers join, so the only people who can attain this membership are cops. When you get to trial and you’ve hired a non-AFTE member to do a shell casing or bullet comparison (of which many non-AFTE folks are perfectly capable), they get cross examined and discredited in front of a jury about the fact that AFTE wouldn’t let them in.