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Capital Report

Florida Supreme Court Approves Daubert Standard For Expert Testimony

This is an image of Bill Shepherd, a lawyer in Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C. and West Palm Beach offices. He is the former statewide prosecutor of Florida.

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.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. She left after a few years to spend more time with her son, working part-time as the capital reporter/producer for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a drama teacher at Young Actors Theatre. She also blogged and reported for StateImpact Florida, an NPR education project, and produced podcasts and articles for AVISIAN Publishing. Gina has won awards for features, breaking news coverage, and newscasts from contests including the Associated Press, Green Eyeshade, and Murrow Awards. Gina served on the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters board of directors and now serves on the board of the new Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists. In her free time, Gina likes to read, travel, and watch her son play sports. Follow Gina Jordan on Twitter: @hearyourthought