The Florida Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling in late May regarding expert witness testimony.
Six years ago, the Florida Legislature adopted the Daubert standard for expert witnesses in court cases. But the state’s high court exercised its right to keep the Frye standard in place, which sets a lower threshold for what can be considered expert testimony.
The makeup of the Florida Supreme Court changed last January when three retiring justices were replaced with appointments made by Governor Ron DeSantis. The newly revamped court quickly decided to implement the tougher standards.
Holland & Knight attorney Bill Shepherd previously served as the statewide prosecutor of Florida, and he pushed to get the Daubert standard approved.
Shepherd: I didn’t want to have to explain to a grieving mother why her daughter’s killer had been walked out the back of the courtroom door on some crazy junk science defense.
WFSU: When you’re referring to junk science, you’re actually talking about what we have had in place for a long time – which is the Frye standard, is that correct?
Shepherd: Right. Florida trailed behind the bulk of the state courts around the country and also the federal court system. The federal court adopted this (Daubert) more than 20 years ago. The idea is that – unlike the state of Florida Frye system which allowed an expert’s pure opinion to come in - the testimony has to be based on reliable science that can be tested and repeated.
WFSU: How will Daubert impact lawsuits, criminal cases, even civil cases?
Shepherd: It will help defendants who are accused of crimes so that we will not have “the dog whisperer” who testified that his dog caught only guilty defendants…or the other side of that – the smellologist in Orlando who said his nose was specially trained and he could tell how long a dead body had been removed from a car trunk.