Expert opinions about the death shriek are admissible at trial

June 9, 2013

Saturday, June 9, 2013

Good afternoon:

The defense presented the testimony of two expert witnesses yesterday, Dr. Peter French from the UK and George Doddington from the United States, who agreed with Dr. Nakasone of the FBI Crime Lab that there is insufficient information in the background of the recorded 911 calls with which to form an opinion regarding whether Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman uttered the terrified death shriek.

The three experts also agreed that there is insufficient information to support an opinion regarding whether there are any identifiable words or phrases in the background of those calls.

Note that the three experts have described the prosecution and defense effort to rely on expert witnesses to identify the source of the terrified death shriek, as well as any words or phrases that either of them might have used, as an absence-of-evidence problem. That is, they agreed that the methodologies used by the prosecution experts are generally accepted by audiologists and neither novel nor new.

This conclusion is all that is required to satisfy the Frye rule, since the rule is a counting-heads test that establishes a threshold requirement or legal foundation to introduce an expert opinion that is based on a novel scientific theory or new methodology. The expert’s conclusion is irrelevant.

In other words, there was no need for a Frye hearing since the prosecution experts based their opinions on long accepted methodologies. Therefore, their opinions are admissible.

How much weight should be accorded to those opinions is a separate issue that only the jury can decide.

Defense counsel have focused their effort during the Frye hearing on attacking the validity of the opinions expressed by the prosecution experts. They are going to have to repeat that effort during the trial.

I predicted long ago that expert opinion regarding who uttered the terrified death shriek would not play a significant role in the outcome of the trial.

If I were arguing the State’s case to the jury, I would emphasize the strength of the circumstantial evidence that proves Trayvon Martin uttered the shriek. I would briefly add that the conclusions reached by the prosecution experts independently confirm the circumstantial evidence.

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