“Scientific Thought Partnering” in Criminal and Civil Litigation

Conventional wisdom suggests that litigants must retain expert witnesses or consultants only for single areas of expertise in which said experts are competent. This is true, in many circumstances, but not all. Some consultants have tremendous experience in conducting overall evaluations of the depth and breadth of scientific evidence in cases and determining their individual and collective relevance based upon the facts of each case.

These special consultants don’t need to be experts in every relevant subject matter because they know how to scrutinize and apply basic scientific principles within the constructs of a case or investigation. They know how to organize the scientific facts. They know what questions should be asked. But more importantly, they know what constitutes acceptable answers to those questions. This multidisciplinary skill can be of immense value to litigators faced with a battery of scientific evidence yet have no clue how to even approach it.

This ability to conduct a multidisciplinary review of many kinds of scientific or specialized evidence comes with experience and an understanding of how to merge scientific reasoning with investigative and legal inquiry. Such consultants often have a considerable blend of technical and administrative experience that has afforded them opportunities to both practice science and apply it in real-world cases and situations.

My own experience as a forensic laboratory director required me to facilitate complex discussions among my laboratory staff and the investigators and attorneys who would eventually solve and adjudicate the most complex cases. In hundreds of major cases, usually unsolved murders and sexual assaults, I gained valuable experience in facilitating the application of science for the purpose of resolving investigative and judicial problems.

No case in my memory, however, was more complex than the bombing of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the related serial bombings that rocked the city immediately afterwards. Under intense pressure and incessant media scrutiny, it seemed as if our team spent as much time in meetings with investigators and U.S. attorneys as we did in the laboratory – hoping to leverage the power of science to determine who was responsible. We solved the case, but the effort required was beyond description.

Of course, not all consultants are the same. Some are highly specialized while others have the ability to provide effective support across a number of domains. The important thing, however, is for criminal and civil litigators to understand the value of having a “scientific thought partner” during complex cases involving scientific evidence. Such partnerships allow for strategies to be developed, areas of inquiry to be identified, and for background research to be conducted more efficiently and effectively. All this results in a more competent and thorough approach to dealing with any kind of scientific evidence, whether it is in support of or in opposition to a particular party in criminal or civil litigation. It can be an investment that pays for itself a hundred times over.

By John Collins MA, SHRM-SCP
Published on July 12, 2017

John Collins is a High-Stakes Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach at Critical Victories (www.criticalvictories.com).