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Military Scam, Expert Witness, Loud Music Bills Pass Fla. Senate Judiciary Committee

What kind of testimony should judges allow juries to hear? And if police can pull you over for playing loud music, should they check a box on your ticket identifying your race? These were among many questions up for consideration before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

During a trial, many times the evidence is very complex, scientifically or technically. But randomly selected juries are still expected to interpret it and come to a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s where expert witnesses come in. Scientists and other people with highly specialized knowledge can offer their opinion based on their own work, even if they don’t have specific knowledge of the case at hand.

But Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) wants Florida to prohibit experts from testifying unless they meet the following three criteria: “One: The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data. Two: the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods. And Three: The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.”

Richter and other proponents say the stricter expert-testimony standard keeps so-called “junk science” out of the courtroom. Richter’s bill would put the state in line with the standards used in federal courtrooms and with what 20 other states have also adopted.

But Troy Rafferty, with the Florida Justice Association, said, going from the current standard, called the Frye standard, to the proposed Daubert standard would overburden the courts and make it harder for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits, in some cases adding years to their time in court.

“I have handled cases under both Daubert and Frye, and I can tell you unequivocally that the Daubert hearings are more expensive, they take longer, and they are huge, huge impediments to getting cases heard,” Rafferty said.

But Sen. John Thrasher (R-Saint Augustine) said, Florida’s legal system needs a revamp. “If there is additional cost—there may be—then we ought to take care of that. But getting at the truth ought to supersede what additional cost and concerns about delay there are. That’s ultimately what this bill is about,” Thrasher said.

Richter’s bill has one more committee stop. Meanwhile the House version is already on second reading on the floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed a bill allowing police to pull people over for playing music too loudly. The bill itself didn’t generate much debate, but a proposed amendment did. The amendment, by Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) would have helped the state monitor racial profiling by requiring police to mark the offender’s race on each ticket.

“I want facts. They will come about as a result of the record-keeping that comes with passing this amendment. This is consistent with what has been done over the past ten years since I’ve been here,” Joyner said.

Marking the offender’s race is already done for other types of tickets, like for not wearing a seatbelt.

But Brian Pitts, on behalf of Justice to Jesus, said, solving one problem can create another. “It opens the door to selective prosecution,” he said. “’Cause now, what you do, if you do have the information and it’s now tallied, who knows what prosecutor picked it up? And you have selective prosecution for that.”

The amendment failed. But the bill passed unanimously and heads now to the Senate floor. Its House version is on second reading on the floor.

And finally, the committee also passed a bill outlawing bullying school children on the Internet, a bill making it a felony to post nude photos online of someone without his consent, and a bill increasing the penalty for scamming a military veteran or his family members.