ARCHIVE

Archive for the ‘Testifying’ Category

4: Forensic Science – How to Prepare to be an Expert Witness

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

expert witnessBecoming an expert witness is a challenging step for a forensic expert. In an earlier post we talked about putting together your CV and its importance in building your credibility as a forensic expert. Now, we will go over the how to prepare yourself and your team for trial and what to expect when testifying in the courtroom.  Not all forensic experts decide to become expert witnesses and appear in court.  There are many qualified experts who choose to avoid the stress of testifying and focus on the outside forensic work that they specialize in.  Testifying in court is challenging and requires a lot of preparation to withstand the pressure of the courtroom.

Personally, I have found that there are two aspects to my career as a forensic expert.  The first is my forensic talent, which I make sure to continuously improve by furthering my education in the field every year.  The second is testifying.  This skill almost outweighs an expert’s laboratory experience.  This requires you to not only know your field of expertise but also know how to act in the courtroom.  I have worked on and testified in dozens of forensic assignments and court cases, which has helped build my reputation and credibility as an expert witness.

In this episode, we’ll go over the importance of completing forensic assignments and testifying, the courtroom experience, what it means to be under oath, preparation for the trial, how to dress and act when testifying, how to best answer questions while on the stand, the direct examination and the cross examination.

Now, listen in with Audio and Video Forensic Expert Ed Primeau as he discusses what to expect when becoming an expert witness and testifying in court.

How to Hire a Lawyer

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

hiring a lawyerAfter 30 years as an audio and video forensic expert, I know about the good and the not-so-good lawyers. It seems to me, based on firsthand experience, that there are more ‘not-so-good’ lawyers. This inspired me to compose a blog post on how to hire a lawyer. 

The first point I want to make is that if you have a lawyer that you feel is not doing the best job for you in your case, fire them and get a better lawyer. You may even be entitled to a partial refund of the retainer you paid them when they took your case. For questions on this, consult your state licensing board’s grievance commission. Here is a link for cases in Michigan http://www.agcmi.com/

A good lawyer knows how to balance their time. They avoid taking calls when they are with clients, providing them with their undivided attention. The not-so-good lawyers answer their phone during client meetings. This brings up another problem, lawyers that do not have assistants. Every good lawyer has somebody to answer their phone and help with coordination of details in your legal matter.

A good lawyer will be firm with you when you run on with crazy ideas that seem to tell them how to do their job. A not-so-good lawyer may yell at you or avoid you all together. Remember, many lawyers take cases based on flat fees. In this situation, don’t abuse the lawyer’s time. Good lawyers will tell you their trial strategy days before your court room appearance. Not-so-good lawyers tell you their trial strategy the morning of your court date.

Good lawyers plan, not-so-good lawyers wing it. I have worked with lawyers who juggle multiple cases in the same courthouse simultaneously. How can a lawyer be a good lawyer when they are multitasking?

This may be OK for parking tickets and other related minor driving offences, but when you have a criminal case that could land you in jail, this is unacceptable.

Good lawyers dress well and are respected by those in the courts where they practice. Not-so-good lawyers show up in court with wrinkled shirts that don’t fit so well or with their hair messed up. Appearance is extremely important in court for not only yourself, but also your lawyer.

So how do you hire a good lawyer in the first place? By asking a lot of questions before you sign the check. Ask for references and call those references. Go to their office instead of meeting them over coffee at Tim Horton’s. A lawyer’s office speaks volumes about their practice. If you cannot afford a good lawyer, the court will appoint you one. In this case you don’t have much choice. You have to take what you can get. However, in some cases you can tell the court why you would like a new lawyer assigned to you. Keep a list of dates and details before you file that complaint.

When meeting with a lawyer for the first time, bring a list of questions and write down their answers. Beware of lawyers who take big cases for small flat fees. Chances are they don’t have the ability to handle your case and will more than likely let you down. Good trial lawyers are worth their weight in gold.

There are different levels of lawyers who specialize in different aspects of law practice. There are general practice lawyers who handle drunk driving, domestic disputes, traffic tickets and divorce. There are other lawyers that handle IRS disputes or those that are experts at child custody. Some lawyers handle criminal law. These lawyers are very experienced and usually charge a higher rate than the previous lawyers mentioned.

Once you have interviewed at least three lawyers that you are considering, review the facts before you make your decision. Which lawyer impressed you the most? Which lawyer did you best connect with? Which lawyer almost blew you off?

Lastly, do not let the pending litigation distract your decision making skills. Do not be blindsided into picking a lawyer because you are in a hurry. Make your decision based on fact as well as gut feeling.

photo credit: Historic 9th District Court of Appeals via photopin (license)

Expert Witness Preparation

Monday, May 19th, 2014

expert witness preparation As an audio and video forensic expert, I often have to give depositions and also testify. A few years ago my courtroom activity was minimal. Today, it seems like more and more cases are going to trial. Prosecutor pleas are not being accepted and civil litigators are too far apart for settlement.

When the time comes for me to testify, I always carve out time to prepare on my own as well as with the client attorney. I begin by reviewing the evidence, audio or video. Then I read all communication between myself and the client. Lastly, I read my reports. When I meet with the attorney, I begin by asking them to discuss their top concerns about the case and my deposition.

One very valuable lesson I have learned is to rehearse every aspect of the testimony with the client lawyer. This includes my Voir Dire. According to Forensic magazine, ‘The voir dire examination is typically based upon perfunctory questioning about institutional affiliation and publications. The expert witness performs two primary functions: 1) the scientific function — collecting, testing, and evaluating evidence and forming an opinion as to that evidence; and 2) the forensic function — communicating that opinion and its basis to the judge and jury. A general rule of evidence is that witnesses may only testify to what they have personally observed or encountered through their five senses.

I take the time to prepare a list of questions for the client lawyer to ask me when testifying that helps them understand my credentials. When we meet to discuss my testimony prior to testifying, we add to that list based on the lawyers concerns and experience with the case.

Audio and video forensics can be technical by nature and every once in awhile I am faced with opposing counsel that has really done their homework. One particular case happened recently where opposing counsel asked me a series of questions that were misleading in order to trip me up during a deposition. I knew the answers but was distracted by their condescending line of questioning. It caught me off guard and later I realized that I should have rehearsed this potentially harmful line of questioning.

I was asked about the science of my investigation. I had already answered by observation and experience. When the opposing counsel kept asking I thought he was digging deeper to learn the mechanics of the equipment that I had not yet investigated. In hindsight, I should have repeated my answer instead of trying to figure out the operational science on the spot. I knew the answer but was cornered because he was extremely prepared to find a weak spot in my testimony.

I have had cases where client lawyers tell me that we do not have to prepare. I push hard and offer options for our pre trial rehearsal. I have learned to ask, ‘Would you like to meet the night before or the morning of the trial?’

One last point is to always anticipate the cross examination questions and prepare your answers well in advance. That way, when you are under oath, your testimony will be smooth and nearly complete during direct examination.

Spend as much time preparing for your testimony as necessary. Since your client depends on your preparation and experience, you owe it to them to do your absolute best. Since your reputation depends on your testimony, do not feel that you must be compensated for every minute of your preparation. In fact, it’s always a good idea to give more than you have been compensated for. I like to refer to that as going the extra mile. As an audio forensic expert , video forensic expert, or any other expert witness, it’s mandatory to be prepared for testimony. Do not be distracted by the monetary aspect of your business when it comes to preparation.

The Forensic Expert Witness: 3 Tips For Preparing to Testify

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Proficiency in their field is certainly a prerequisite for all who testify in court as an expert witness. But now, with the benefit of 25 years experience, I believe that a good expert witness must also qualify as an expert in communicating clearly and persuasively on the witness stand. In short, expertise in testifying is just as important as expertise in a particular field of knowledge. Here, then, are 4 tips for expert witnesses and the attorneys they work with.

 

Tip #1

Make sure that the judge and jury are fully convinced that you are, without any doubt, a true expert in your field. Proving your status as a recognized, fully qualified expert is the foundation upon which all your testimony rests. The more impressive your credentials, the greater the weight given to your testimony. For that reason, I always have several copies of my CV available for review by opposing counsel, judge, and jurors, as well as a copy that is entered into evidence.Always supply the attorneys on your side with a clear outline of facts designed to help establish your credibility as an expert witness. You can even provide them with a list of suggested questions that will help substantiate your qualifications in a succinct, logical manner. It has been my experience that if I do not earn the respect and trust of the jury before presenting the facts, then my testimony will fall on deaf ears. Similarly, make a list or an outline of the order and substance of the points you plan to make, and provide it to the attorneys who have engaged you as an expert witness. There is no one more qualified than you to suggest a line of questioning to follow during your direct examination. You have a broad overview of the beginning, middle, and end of your investigation, the story of what you found and how you found it. By their very nature, people are constantly attempting to make sense of their experience. Psychologists have found that one of the ways they do this is by creating narratives, forging links between the facts of their experience and creating causal chains. If the story you present is a good one, if it is clear and compelling, then the jury will remember it and give it the credence it deserves. Especially in cases where there are many facts to bring out, a detailed outline serves as a road map for the attorney to follow. Under the pressure of appearing in court, it is surprisingly easy to overlook important facts that must be highlighted during your testimony.

Tip #2

Sitting alone, I always rehearse aloud what I want to say when I testify. This helps me remember the order in which I want to present my findings. More importantly, it allows me to practice explaining, in simple language, the results of my investigation. My goal is to present, explain, and illustrate my findings so that the average 12-year old can understand me. Juries are easily bored by technical jargon and obscure scientific concepts. I strive to be clear and concise, and to allow the natural enthusiasm I have for my area of expertise to show through. People love to learn about new things(though this flame is often extinguished by the time they graduate from high school).One of my favorite film directors, Stanley Kubrick, once said, “To be boring is the worst sin of all.” Our world is alive with facts and ideas, emotions and events. Life is inherently interesting. Appearing as an expert witness should not give someone license to put the jury to sleep.

Tip #3

Extremely valuable is conducting a mock trial. I recently testified as a video forensics expert in one of the most complex cases of my career. We spent two days on a mock trial, with one lawyer doing direct and another cross. Over time, I was able to answer every question clearly and without hesitation, even those questions that challenged my findings and expertise. By the second day, we had arrived at a list of all the questions the prosecutor would be most likely to ask during cross-examination. At trial, the prosecution had only two questions for me, because we had already answered most of his questions on direct examination. Anticipating and pre-empting questions from the opposition is a highly effective legal strategy. Because it was complete and candid, my testimony was largely immune to challenge from the prosecution. A trial consists of many large and small battles, which determine the outcome of the war, the verdict. In that sense, my testimony was an overwhelming victory for our side.

 

 

 

 

 

Download Edward Primeau’s C/V

cv

Video

 Check out our other Forensic Services Websites:

logo-othersites-afelogo-othersites-vfe