Saturday, 4 July 2015

5 Critical Questions That Define Admissibility of Evidence In Court


The decision to allow an evidence to be admitted in court rests solely on the judge.
More particularly if the evidence is scientific-based, from a forensic perspective. Many people and relevant stakeholders(parties involved in the case) in court including the judge may not be scientists. So the "process"  of allowing evidences to be admitted is to be undertaken with all seriousness considering the stakes involved. The following questions drawn both from  Daubert and Frye's standard of evidence admissibility guides the judge in determining whether an evidence given by an expert witness is admissible or not.

Below are the five questions(which are not arranged in any order of preference).

1.What scientific theory or hypothesis is technique used based on?
There are several laws in the sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology which are unchangeable. For instance a common law known as the law of conservation of energy(or first law of thermodynamics) states that "energy cannot be created nor destroyed but can be transformed from one form to another". Laws like this can form the basis for other principles to be built upon in science. Therefore, a judge may need to know how an evidence Presented can be traced back to certain laws or principles of science.

2. Has the theory or hypothesis been tested and proved?
In other words, has that theory  been practically tested just to make sure its not some 'cooked up' idea obtained by putting just two and two together? This involves experiments carried out to validate the theory or principle.

3. Has it been peer reviewed by the scientific community?
Has it been criticized by other scientists? What was their opinion of the methods? This is important in other to determine that you are not just 'on your own'. Other scientists must sanction a technique as credible for publication.

4. What is the level of general acceptance within the relevant scientific community? (How popular is it)
At least your niche scientific community must have approved of the method, theory or principles and given it huge recognition. Therefore the relevant community must have agreed to the technique used thus ensuring a 'general acceptance' to that technique, method or procedure thereby making it 'scientific knowledge' through publications in journals and papers.

5. What is the potential for errors in the methods or procedures used?
These refers to the possibility for errors in using the method in question mostly measured in percentage. This tests for reliability, accuracy and reproducibility of the technique and results. Percentage errors between 1-5% is acceptable. The higher the potential error rate the lesser eligibility of the evidence to be admissible in court.
Therefore, it is imperative for forensic experts to note that techniques, procedures and methods to be used for any analysis must be one that has a strong scientific experimental backing that has gained wide acceptance as a standard with very minimal potential rate for error. One has to ensure all due diligence has been done before presenting an evidence report if one is to have any hopeful confidence of getting their evidence admitted.
Nevertheless, the admissibility of any evidence depends sole on the trial judge in a court of law.
NB. Please note that this article 'only' intends to shed more light in a simple way and by no means is it a modification nor alternative to the Daubert or Frye's standards.