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Expert Testimony, While Often Helpful, Can Be Wrong And Lead To The Conviction

Expert Testimony, While Often Helpful, Can Be Wrong And Lead To The Conviction Of An Innocent Person. Defense Attorneys Should Be Vigilant To Prevent Experts From Improperly Testifying That Other Experts Agree With His Conclusion

The case of Telfort v. State, 978 So. 2d 225 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) involved the reversal of a conviction for home burglary based upon the improper admission of the fingerprint expert's testimony. The fingerprint expert testified that he had no doubt that the defendant's fingerprints were identified as the prints in question. He also stated, "Our department has provisions that another examiner must also view your work to verify the identification is actually one and the same. This print has been compared by two other examiners identifying Mr. Telfort's left index finger."

The court rejected the defendant's objection that the testimony constituted improper bolstering.

The court also noted that evidence which allows experts in the field to testify regarding facts reasonably relied upon by other experts in the field, does not empower such an expert to testify that other experts support his opinion, or that other colleagues agree with the expert's opinion.

The court noted that allowing an expert to refer to consultations with other experts creates the danger of bolstering the credibility of the testifying expert without allowing the opposing party the ability to effectively cross-examine the expert as the basis of the opinion.

In Telfort at page 227, the court cited toLinn v. Fossum, 946 So. 2d 1032 (Fla.2006) where it stated:

Allowing the expert to testify on direct examination that he or she relied on consultations with other experts creates 'too much of a possibility of an inference being drawn that these experts agreed' with the testifying expert. We therefore hold as a matter of law that, under the Florida Evidence Code, an expert is not permitted to testify under direct examination, that the expert relied on consultations with colleagues or other experts in reaching his or her opinion.

Such testimony also raises the issue of improper hearsay evidence referring to non testifying experts also finding that the prints matched the defendants. Additionally, the testimony violates the defendant's constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him.

The court went on to hold that the admission of his testimony was a harmless error since there was no other testimony to prove the crime other than the defendant's confession.