A judge in a lawsuit against Gage County, Nebraska must determine if an expert witness’s testimony is sufficiently supported by scientific study before trial can begin. As reported by the Beatrice Daily Sun, the civil trial brought against Gage County by the so-called “Beatrice 6” – six people exonerated after wrongful convictions for a 1985 murder – will require the judge to rule on the qualifications of the plaintiff’s expert witness. The Beatrice 6, through their attorneys, have asked Dr. Richard Leo to testify about the police tactics that were used during the investigation which led to wrongful conviction. Dr. Leo, a law professor who is an expert on police interrogation tactics and psychological coercion, testified in a similar trial that interrogation and investigation tactics used by police resulted in false confessions and wrongful convictions. It is likely Dr. Leo will offer similar analysis of the police tactics used to convict the Beatrice 6, something the plaintiffs will rely on to collect damages from Gage County.
Gage County attorneys have argued against Dr. Leo’s testimony by claiming his methods fail to satisfy the Daubert test for expert witness qualification because his “science is incomplete, controversial, and lacking in objectively verifiable methodology.” Under the Daubert qualification test, a judge can only admit an expert witness if his methods are supported by established study or professional practice – something Gage County officials claim Dr. Leo lacks. Qualifying an expert witness is critical because juries, who are often unfamiliar with the subject matter, can be swayed by an expert regardless of whether or not his testimony is supported by respected methods. Judges are required to act as gatekeepers for expert witness testimony, and in the case of the Beatrice 6 vs Gage County, the decision on Dr. Leo’s expert qualifications could be critical in deciding the outcome.