Gatekeeping role for scientific evidence is to keep out unsupported legal conclusions and not choose sides; “shaken baby” syndrome: COM. V. MARTIN (COA 6/13/2008)

COM. V. MARTIN
CRIMINAL:  Expert Testimony – Daubert – "shaken baby syndrome"; Gatekeeping role for scientific evidence is to keep out unsupported legal conclusions and not choose sides
2006-CA-002236
PUBLISHED: REVERSING AND REMANDING
PANEL: HENRY PRESIDING; BUCKINGHAM CONCURS; THOMPSON CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY
GREENUP COUNTY
DATE: 6/13/2008

In consolidated appeals, CA reversed circuit court order ruling that expert medical testimony about shaken baby syndrome was unreliable and therefore inadmissible under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). The trial court’s decision to exclude Dr. Spivack’s testimony was an abuse of discretion, because it was founded on the unsupported legal conclusion that because there was dispute amongst the experts as to the possible cause of the infants’ injuries, it was the court’s role to choose the side it found more convincing and exclude the side it found less convincing, based in part on giving greater weight to “scientific” as opposed to “clinical” studies. The Daubert test is designed to keep out unreliable or “pseudoscientific” expert scientific testimony that would confuse or mislead the jury, or that cannot legitimately be challenged in a courtroom. This ‘gatekeeping role of the trial court is designed to banish ‘junk science’ evidence from the courtroom. The testimony of the Commonwealth’s experts in this case, even accepting the trial court’s assessment of its flaws, could not be described as “pseudoscientific” or “junk science.”

By Scott Byrd

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