Taryn Phaneuf May 4, 2016, 6:32am


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri legislators have agreed to raise the standards of expert witnesses, passing a "Daubert" bill that modifies guidelines for admitting testimony.

Proponents say the policy is necessary to make expert testimony more reliable.

“For the sake of justice, we need to ensure that expert scientific and technical evidence is trustworthy ... and not just a product of how much a party can afford to pay a so-called expert to say whatever supports the party’s case,” Rep. Kevin Corlew, who sponsored the bill in the state House of Representatives, told the Record.

Under the new standards, a qualified witness can testify if his or her scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge could elucidate the evidence or raise questions about facts in the case. The court also must determine that testimony is based on “sufficient facts” and “reliable principles and methods,” and the witness “reliably applied” the method to the facts of the case. Prior to the changes, Missouri judges were permitted to admit expert testimony if was based on facts “reasonably relied upon by experts in the field.”

Approximately 40 dates have adopted Daubert. Those that do not, including Illinois, adhere to the less stringent Frye Standard.

After clearing the state House 85-68 on April 27, the bill was sent to Gov. Jay Nixon.

“This legislation will help keep junk science out of the courtroom and will enhance the truth-seeking function our judicial system,” Corlew said.

The modified guidelines don’t apply to divorce and adoption cases, and other cases in juvenile and family court. The bill also prohibits expert witnesses in criminal cases from attributing a defendant’s actions to his or her mental state.

During discussions in committee, opponents argued that Daubert wouldn’t actually improve the quality of testimony. Others have said the legislation will make it more expensive to get expert witnesses or will take away a person’s rights in court.

Corlew disagrees, arguing that the higher standards ensure a fair trial.

“In cases that require expert testimony, it is imperative that the jury is presented with reliable evidence in order for the jury to properly determine whether a party deserves either a civil judgment or a criminal conviction,” he said.

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