Must a Trial Judge Act as a Gatekeeper Even if Not Asked to Do So?

Here’s a question that arose during a recent class: Suppose that a party in a criminal case seeks to introduce forensic evidence from a discipline of questionable validity, such as bite mark analysis. The lawyer on the other side isn’t aware that the technique has been the subject of scientific criticism and doesn’t object. Must the trial judge nonetheless assess the reliability of the proposed testimony before admitting it?

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A Rare Opinion on Criminal Discovery in North Carolina

There seem to be fewer and fewer reported decisions about criminal discovery in North Carolina. A recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision finding a discovery violation by the prosecution, State v. Davis (Apr. 15, 2016), made me wonder why. This post reviews the evolution of North Carolina’s criminal discovery laws, which has brought relative calm to this area of law, along with the decision in Davis, which deals with a recurring issue about disclosure of expert opinion.

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Expert Testimony: “The Child Was Sexually Abused”

Child sexual abuse cases raise a bevy of evidence issues. One recurring issue is this: Is it permissible for the State’s expert to testify that sexual abuse in fact occurred? The answer is yes, in certain circumstances. Here are the rules: 1. In a case involving a child victim, an expert may testify that sexual … Read more

Use of Force Experts

A couple of months ago, the court of appeals decided State v. McDowell, __ N.C. App. __, 715 S.E.2d 602 (2011). The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder notwithstanding his claim of self-defense. A passage from the court’s opinion caught my eye: Dave Cloutier, an expert in use-of-force science and self-defense tactics, testified that, given … Read more


The Need for (Evidence of) Speed

A civil case decided by the court of appeals last week, Blackwell v. Hatley, addresses when a witness may testify as to his or her opinion of how fast a vehicle was traveling.  In Blackwell, the court held that an accident report prepared by a town police officer estimating the defendant’s speed at the time … Read more

The Budget and Court-Appointed Experts

A Chicago Tribune article, available here, states that an Illinois public defender recently moved to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty against her client because the state does not have enough money to pay for the expert witnesses that she believes she will need at the penalty phase of the trial.  Apparently, Illinois … Read more

Careful Questioning in Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Further Update: The court has reissued an opinion in this case. On the issue discussed below, it is very similar — at a minimum — to the original opinion. Update: As of April 1, 2009, the Court of Appeals has withdrawn this opinion.  I’ll post again when the new opinion comes out. The Court of … Read more