Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed into law a piece of legislation that will allow expert witnesses to testify in cases of domestic violence about the effects of violence on their victims and their children and the risks that abusers pose to the victims and children.
Oklahoma Senate Bill 958 was a bipartisan bill that was sponsored by Senator Kay Floyd [D] and Representative Kevin West [R]. The bill was intended to clarify the admissibility of certain expert testimony.
The bill amends 22 O.S. 2011, Section 40.7 to read:
In an action of a court of this state, if a party offers evidence of domestic abuse, testimony of an expert witness including, but not limited to, the effects of such domestic abuse on the beliefs, behavior and perception of the person being abused shall be admissible as evidence.
The bill was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives.
The new legislation clarifies that in Oklahoma courts, if a party presents evidence of domestic violence, an expert witness may testify about the effects of violence on the abused.
Bill co-sponsor Representative West said of the legislation, “It is not acceptable that expert testimony regarding the effects of domestic violence on children and other family members is excluded. . . . I am confident this will be a significant benefit to victims of domestic violence throughout our state, as well as a wake-up call for the abusers.”
The bill’s other sponsor, Senator Floyd, said, “Expert witnesses should be allowed to present research-based and data-driven testimony on the effects of domestic violence on children. This change is long overdue.”
Impact of Legislation
The prior version of the statute did not allow testimony that included the impact of domestic violence that was witnessed by children or allow the presentation of evidence that shows the common traits of abusers, the various types of domestic violence, generational cycles of violence or treatment options.
The updated version of the statute allows such testimony; however, it will still be subject to vigorous cross-examination. The court will remain the gatekeeper of evidence and testimony that is allowed to be presented at trial.
Rules of Evidence
In Oklahoma, the rules of civil procedure allow testimony by expert witnesses.
If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if:
1. The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data;
2. The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
3. The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Oklahoma follows the Daubert test for the admissibility of expert witness testimony. Scruggs v. Edwards, 154 P.3d 1257 (Okla. 2007). Under Daubert, the court should ask four questions to help determine the admissibility of expert testimony: “1. Can the expert’s theory or technique be, or has it been, tested; 2. Has the expert’s theory or technique been subjected to peer review and publication; 3. Is there a “known or potential rate of error … and the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique’s operation; and 4; Is there widespread acceptance of the theory or technique within the relevant scientific community.”