Tag Archives: criminal defense expert witness

Former Federal Judge Limited in Testimony as Expert Witness

Former Federal Judge Limited in Testimony as Expert Witness

A former Federal Court Judge in Madison, Illinois was limited in the scope of the expert testimony that he could offer at trial. A Court held that some of his opinions invaded the province of the presiding judge.

Factual Background

The underlying case involved a fatal accident that occurred in 2005 when a vehicle carrying 6 people ran off a road and rolled over; one person was killed and others were injured. The Estate of the deceased sued two highway contractors that were under contract with the Illinois Department of Transportation. Significantly, the contractors had formed a joint venture with each other to carry out the project.

The gist of the underlying case was that the contractors failed to post adequate barriers and to properly warn oncoming traffic of hazardous conditions. The defendants counterclaimed, alleging that the deceased drove too fast, drove while fatigued, and drove on the shoulder of the road, all of which were claimed to have proximately caused or contributed to the collision, death and injuries.

Insurance Disclosure Led to Pre-Trial Settlement

Before trial, the parties settled the negligence suit for $1 Million under a demand for policy limits, but before the discovery cut-off date. The settlement was based, in part, on a representation by defense counsel for the joint venture, Richard Green, that the $1 Million policy was the total amount of available liability coverage. The policy limits were tendered because the magnitude of the injuries and the risk of a verdict for the Plaintiff(s) could have resulted in excess exposure on the Defendants had policy limits not been tendered. After the settlement had been reached, the negligence lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice.

Revelation of Additional Insurance Prompts Second Suit

Later, it was determined that the contractors had individual liability insurance policies in addition to coverage for the joint venture. Therefore, the Estate filed a new lawsuit. It claimed that the negligence suit would not have been settled had the Plaintiffs known of the additional liability coverage.

Former Federal Judge Renders an Opinion as a Defense Expert in Second Suit

Former Judge Patrick Murphy stated that the defense counsel in the negligence suit had no reason to believe that there was insurance in addition to that on the joint venture.

But he went further, and that’s where problems arose. He stated that while he had no opinion on whether or not there really was additional coverage, it was the duty of the Plaintiffs’ lawyer to determine if there was. He stated that the lawyer could have propounded detailed interrogatories and used other methods of discovery. Mr. Murphy also stated that under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defense counsel had no duty to investigate whether there was other coverage. He stated that it was “gross negligence” by the Estate’s attorney not to have done so.

Court Held That the Scope of the Expert’s Opinion Was Overly Broad

The Court in the coverage case granted a motion to strike Judge Murphy’s testimony about Rule 26. It held that whether or not there was compliance with Rule 26 was strictly within the province of the court. The Court also held that Mr. Murphy’s testimony about whether or not plaintiffs’ counsel was negligent in the underlying case were impermissible legal conclusions.

Source: Madison Record

(Photo Credit: “Expert Witness” by NY and Picserver is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.)

Expert Witness Testifies During Post-Conviction Hearing of Serial’s Adnan Syed

The post-conviction hearing for Adnan Syed, whose case was made famous by the 2014 legal podcast Serial, featured intense testimony from an expert witness who argued the murder conviction should be invalidated due to insufficient defense counsel.  The hearing, which is expected to conclude later this week, will determine the fate of Syed who is currently serving a life sentence.

Serial Podcast Leads to Post-Conviction Hearing

In 2000 Adnan Syed was convicted for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and high school classmate.  From the moment of his arrest Syed has maintained his innocence, and has spent the time since his conviction seeking a new trial by claiming his defense attorney provided constitutionally inadequate representation.  Syed has been in prison for more than 16 years, but finally earned a post-conviction hearing to review his case in part due to the overwhelming popularity of a NPR podcast which reviewed the facts of the case and Adnan’s prosecution.

In 2014 journalist Sarah Koenig produced and hosted a podcast on NPR called Serial which discussed the investigation into Lee’s murder and Adnan’s involvement.  Throughout the course of Serial’s first season Koenig pointed to a number of procedural question marks in Adnan’s prosecution and defense, the most glaring of which was his attorney’s failure to properly question a number of potential alibi witnesses who placed Adnan in a different location from Lee at the time of her murder.

Three weeks after the conclusion of Serial’s expose on Adnan’s murder trial, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals allowed him to appeal his conviction on the grounds his attorney, Christina Gutierrez, who died in 2004, was ineffective in her efforts to defend him.

Adnan Syed Defense Team Calls Legal Expert Witness

A criminal defense expert witness called by Adnan’s attorneys took the stand to tell the court that Gutierrez’s failure to pursue alibi witnesses was a crucial mistake which satisfies the legal standard for constitutionally insufficient counsel.  According to David Irwin, an attorney who consults as an expert witness for criminal defense, Gutierrez was made aware of potential alibi witnesses by Adnan shortly after his arrest, but she didn’t seriously inquire about their alibi testimony or call any to the stand during Syed’s criminal trial.

Irwin called Gutierrez’s failure a “game changer” which “made an incredible difference in the outcome of the case” and told the Court of Special Appeals that Adnan’s insufficient counsel satisfied the Strickland Test, named after the Supreme Court case Strickland v Washington.  The Strickland Test, which is used to determine whether defense counsel was constitutionally deficient, requires a defendant to first show his counsel fell below an objective standard of reasonable quality and second that had the defense attorney performed adequately the outcome of the trial would have been different.

During his expert testimony Irwin said that Gutierrez’s counsel fell below the standard for care expected of defense attorneys and the result of Adnan’s trial would likely have been different because alibi witnesses are, according to Irwin, the second-best evidence a defendant can present at trial.  Irwin concluded that there were no tactical reasons for Gutierrez to not call alibi witnesses, which suggests her decision to not follow up on those witnesses constituted a failure.

Alibi Witness Testifies at Adnan’s Appeals Trial

To bolster testimony by its expert witness, Adnan Syed’s defense team called a key alibi witness to the stand during his post-conviction hearing.  Asia McClain, a classmate of Adnan’s, testified during the hearing that she remembered seeing the defendant at the library at the time he was allegedly killing Lee in a Best Buy parking lot.  McClain also told the court that Gutierrez knew about her statement but did not call her to the stand, lending credibility to Irwin’s claim that Adnan was not adequately represented during his initial trial.

Adnan’s post-conviction hearing, which also featured expert testimony from prosecutors which argued cell phone information linking Adnan to the murder scene was valid, is expected to wrap up this week after several days of dramatic testimony.