When individuals are accused of committing criminal activity, their attorneys must oftentimes hire experts to refute claims made by the prosecution and to ultimately prove the innocence of the accused. Similarly, when trying to disprove an individual’s criminal defense strategy, prosecutors also must oftentimes hire expert witnesses to support their claims.
A telling new study conducted by psychologists from the University of Virginia and a university in Texas indicates that the testimony and conclusions provided by expert witnesses may change depending on who has hired them. If defense attorneys hire the experts, their conclusions may favor the defendant. Whereas if prosecutors hire expert witnesses, their conclusions may favor the case put forth by those prosecutors.
According to the study recently published in the journal Psychological Science, experts hired by defense attorneys generally provide significantly different conclusions in regards to given data than experts hired by prosecutors do when presented with the same data. As one of the study’s researchers recently explained in a statement, “Most expert witnesses believe they perform their job objectively. These findings suggest this may not be the case.”
Expert witnesses can influence juries to a great extent. Their testimony often makes or breaks criminal prosecutions. If these experts are vulnerable to the bias of the side that has hired them, should their testimony be given such great weight? This is a question that must be contemplated by criminal justice advocates as they seek to reform the criminal justice system to be as fair, transparent and predictable as possible.
Source: Popsci.com, “Researchers Expose Troubling Bias In Forensic Psychology,” Francie Diep, August 28, 2013