It’s all over the news; Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault. But many people might ask, why was he convicted this time and not last time? Last year Cosby was tried, and because the jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict, a mistrial was declared. So what made the big difference this time? Same victim, same crime, same investigation. One key difference was the prosecution’s use of an expert witness. What is an expert witness? How are they different than a normal witness? Expert witnesses are people with so much training and education in a specific field that they are qualified to be “experts” in a particular field. This is important because it allows them to testify to their opinion, rather than just testifying to the facts like is required of normal witnesses. The expert in the Cosby trial was Dr. Barbara Ziv, a psychiatrist who specialized in the treatment of sexual assault victims and offenders. While a sexual assault prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, I had several opportunities to work with Dr. Ziv and call her as an expert witness. In any case, where an expert is called, the expert’s schooling and work history is presented to the jury. So, Dr. Ziv’s education in becoming a psychiatrist and her work history working in the field of sexual assault would have been analyzed in depth by both the prosecution and defense before the Judge in the case qualified her as an expert witness. After this Dr. Ziv would have been allowed to testify to her opinion regarding the behavior of sexual assaults victims, combating many pre-conceived notions and myths held by jurors. This education of jurors from the witness stand likely played a critical part in their ultimately reaching the guilty verdict.
It’s not just in criminal cases that experts can mean the difference between success and failure. In the right case, expert witnesses can and should be used in a personal injury case. When people are seriously hurt in a car accident or a slip and fall, there are several experts that are used in court. Calling an expert to testify to the cost of future medical care they will need or calling an expert to testify to the ramifications on a person’s ability to earn a living can have a huge impact on what a jury will award an injured person. It is essential to have an attorney on your side who knows when an expert should be used, knows those best qualified in their fields, and knows how to present them to a jury. Just like in the Cosby trial, use of an expert in a personal injury case can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case. You need an attorney who understands that and who is skilled in their use of experts. At Grimes Teich Anderson LLP we use expert witnesses when we believe it will help our clients’ case.
Senta Rhodes is a personal injury attorney at Grimes Teich Anderson LLP