HOW DAUBERT CAN HELP
OR HURT YOUR CASE
John Elliott Leighton
I. Introduction and Background
A. Admissibility of Expert Testimony
The first attempt to develop a clear rule regarding the admissibility of scientific evidence occurred in 1923, with the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Frye v. United States. The decision established a “general acceptance” standard for the admissibility of scientific evidence that soon developed into common-law. The Frye test, as it became known, is still the principle means of determining admissibility of scientific evidence in most states. However, the “general acceptance” test was plagued with problems from the outset.
Critics argued that courts often manipulated the level of general acceptance necessary to find reliability, thereby controlling the admissibility of evidence. In other instances, it was alleged that courts would redefine the “scientific community” so as to control the admission or exclusion of evidence. However, the complaint most commonly voiced was that the “general acceptance” test was too rigid and inflexible, excluding evidence that should be admitted as reliable and relevant. Essentially, critics pointed out that no matter how relevant or reliable the scientific principle, the evidence and opinions would not be admitted until the scientific principles had achieved “general acceptance.”
The attack on the Frye test escalated in the years following the 1975 adoption of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Proponents for the elimination of the Frye test argued that the Federal Rules of Evidence superceded Frye and were void of any references as to the general acceptance standard. Moreover, according to commentators, the Rules purportedly eliminated common law principles upon codification.
The cacophony arising from the debate concerning Frye crescendoed in 1993 with the Supreme Court’s decision in...