Senate Bill 591, sponsored by Senator Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, was passed by the Senate in January 2016 to provide the same standards for trial evidence in Missouri that is required in federal courts and 40 other states. The standard is called the Daubert standard. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) is a United States Supreme Court case determining the standard for admitting expert testimony in federal courts.
Expert witnesses are influential in shaping the case outcome. Daubert ensures that only evidence deemed relevant, reliable and provided by qualified individuals will be admitted as expert testimony. According to the bill’s language, an expert witness may testify in a court proceeding if the expert has specialized knowledge that helps the fact finder understand the evidence, the testimony is based on sufficient facts and the product of reliable principles, and the expert has reliably applied such principles to the case facts.
An expert may base an opinion on case facts that the expert has been made aware of or personally observed. If experts in the specific field would reasonably rely on those kinds of facts in forming an opinion, the facts need not be admissible for the opinion to be admitted. If the facts would otherwise be inadmissable, the proponent may disclose them to the fact finder only if their probative value outweighs the unfair prejudice. An expert witness may state an opinion without first testifying to the underlying facts, but may be required to do so on cross-examination.
Under Daubert, the judge plays a critical role as gatekeeper to ensure an expert witness meets basic criteria. The judge must find it more likely than not that the expert's methods are reliable and reliably applied to the facts at hand. Daubert has generally been successful in excluding "junk science," "pseudoscience", and new or experimental techniques and research. Junk science is scientific data, research, or analysis considered to be fraudulent. Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to the scientific method.
Under Senate Bill 591, only witnesses with personal knowledge about facts at issue in a trial may testify, except expert witnesses can give opinion testimony about complex scientific, technical, and medical issues.
The National Federation of Independent Business, the Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers, Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Missouri Petroleum Council, MSCPA, Missouri Retailers Association supported the bill. The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, some judges, and some people in labor opposed the bill. Some say the need for a court to evaluate the qualifications of an expert would result in delays in the judicial system.
Assembly Bill 591 went to the Missouri House for further action.
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