The Defense Expert: Paid Testimony

In “False Accusations and Self Inflicted Injuries” Florida defense lawyer Ron Chapman tells the story of a case where his client’s wife accused him of cutting her wrists with box cutters. I don’t know Florida’s penal statutes but that’s aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas – 2nd degree felony – punishable by 2 to 20 years.

The accuser is in the midst of divorcing Ron’s client, has a history of mental health problems, and – oh yeah – insists he didn’t do it. So Ron hires an expert for a scientific opinion: 

I sent the photographs of the wife's injuries to a forensic pathologist who immediately concluded that they were self-inflicted.  When I told this to the prosecutor on the case (and to his boss), both dismissed the expert's conclusion.  The case proceeded to trial.

At trial the jury (aided by the forensic pathologist's testimony) concluded that my client was not guilty of any wrongdoing.  After the trial, several of the jurors asked me why the case had not been dismissed by the prosecutor since the woman's injuries were clearly self-inflicted. 

I have since wondered why experienced prosecutors could not see what was so obvious to those jurors who had no training in the law.

I’m guessing it’s a knee jerk reaction by a prosecutor who thinks “paid testimony” is automatically – I don’t know – perjury? That the defense lawyer can just pay any old scientist to come in, swear falsely in an affidavit, testify under oath to whatever the defense needs… for the right fee.

If only they would apply that same logic to snitches. There’s no difference really – except that a drug addled felon with a history of crimes involving moral turpitude looking to save himself some time in the pen might be more willing to lie than some professional who is simply accepting fair compensation for his services and rendering an expert opinion.

Never mind. There I go talking like a crazy defense lawyer again.

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George - April 23, 2008 4:05 PM

I was recently on jury duty in Travis County. The case was a misdemeanor assault. Basically, 2 teenaged girls got in a fight in a club over one of the girl's boyfriend, who was the other's babydaddy.

It was all a big deal over basically nothing. The girl that lost the fight went to the police 3 days later and made a complaint, the police picked the other girl up, and she hired a defense lawyer.

Each side had friends testify at the trial, but there were ne independent witnesses such as the club's bouncers. In testimony, the police stated they did no investigation other than taking the girl's statement and entering the complaint into the system.

In the jury room, several of us were able to convince the others that the state had not met the burden of proof and we found the girl not guilty.

As I told the other jurors, other than the defendant, we probably cared more about this case than any of the other people involved.

It seemed a waste to tie up a courtroom, drag 30 people in for jury selection, bring 6 back in for a trial, and it was basically for nothing.

Why are such trials allowed to come to trial? Why didn't someone along the line look at the case and say, "There is no case?"

The judge said after the trial there were 240 jury trials pending in this court alone. How many of them are such poorly prepared cases? No wonder the system is screwed up.

Of course, there was a judge, bailiff, secretary, recorder, two prosecutors and a defense lawyer making a living there, so that might have something to do with it.

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