Gerrie Nel destroys a defense expert and gets him to implicate Oscar Pistorius

April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good evening:

In the following exchange regarding the position of the magazine rack in the toilet room where Reeva Steenkamp was shot to death, we are going to see an excellent example of a skilled prosecutor leading a very compliant defense expert witness into a trap and springing it shut.

The position of the magazine rack is important to the outcome of the trial because Oscar Pistorius testified that he fired his gun in response to hearing the magazine rack hitting or being hit by something and he was certain that it was not in the position in which the police claimed to have discovered it when they investigated and photographed the scene. The graphic photo showed the magazine rack next to the toilet bowl on the side opposite the door and positioned at an angle to the wall.

The defense contends that the magazine rack was close to the door when Reeva Steenkamp bumped it while reaching for the handle to open the door.

The prosecution contends that they were having an argument and she locked herself in the bathroom to get away from him. They argue that he fired through the door, killing her as she stood away from the door on the far side of the toilet bowl.

Roger Dixon is the compliant defense expert because Gerrie Nel so thoroughly humiliated him yesterday regarding his lack of integrity that today he was absolutely determined to defend his integrity no matter the cost to Pistorius by insisting that the magazine rack was positioned where the police said they found it. That is, on the other side of the toilet contrary to what Pistorius said.

The exchange begins around the 45 minute mark of Session 1 earlier today.

Nel: Now are you saying that after the wound to the back was sustained on your reconstruction, that the deceased got up again . . . you’re not saying that?

Dixon: The deceased was lifted, up my Lady, by Mr. Pistorius when he took her out of the bathroom. Other than that, I do not believe that she made any more voluntary movements after she fell to the floor.

Nel: On your reconstruction [with glasses twirling], having fallen on the magazine rack, the furthest point of the magazine rack from the toilet, that’s what you said, and that caused the bruise to the buttocks . . .

Dixon: The contusion as Mr. Simmonds said . . .

Nel: Good. And in the same movement, it caused the two contusions on the back, am I correct?

Dixon: That is correct, my Lady.

Nel: And from that position she must have fallen forward toward the toilet bowl . . .

Dixon: That is my interpretation, my Lady.

Nel: Then one would expect the magazine rack to be there?

Dixon: That is so, my Lady.

Nel: The accused said to this court that it definitely wasn’t there. Are you giving a version that is different than the accused version?

Dixon: My Lady, my reconstruction of the events in that toilet is based on the evidence that I can see and measure and has been recorded by other people.

Nel: So what you’re saying, let me just get that . . Whatever the accused is saying, you’re saying he’s wrong.

Dixon: My Lady, I am giving testimony on what I observe and interpret. I am not saying that anyone else is right or wrong.

Nel: Can the accused be right, if you’re right? He said the magazine rack was definitely not there. Then he must be wrong. You’re his witness. What are you saying about that?

Dixon then refers to a photograph of the blood on the floor next to the toilet and shows two marks — one of a dry spot where the blood congealed around one leg of the magazine rack, which was positioned in a pool of her blood next to the toilet bowl on the far side of the toilet from the door, and the second of a bloody smudge on the floor next to the wall after the magazine rack was moved. The photograph contradicts Pistorius’s testimony.

In other words, in a desperate move to salvage his honor, dignity and professional reputation, Dixon used the photograph to drive another nail into Pistorius’s coffin.

I have never seen that done before.

Nel is a master of his craft and if you are at all interested in the art of cross examination, you need to watch him in action.

The trial of Oscar Pistorius resumes on Monday, May 5th.

That is also the scheduled date for the beginning of Michael Dunn’s retrial, although I am still anticipating a defense continuance.

In the meantime, we will check in on the other cases we have been covering and take another look at the Boston Marathon Bomber case.

Please let us know if you have any other cases you would like to see us discuss.

Finally, if you have not already made a donation this month and can afford to make one, please do so.

Thank you, Fred


Zimmerman: The defense must retain its own experts

May 5, 2013

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Good morning:

Amsterdam1234 provided the inspiration for this post with this comment:

@xena

About the contents of Trayvon’s phone. I listened very carefully to what was requested by the defense, and how the state responded to the requests concerning data on Trayvon’s phone.

The state gave defense 2 reports that listed some information found on Trayvon’s phone. They also gave all the raw data they were able to retrieve, to the defense.

During the hearing West was whining about not being able to read the data without special software. That defense team is an embarrasment. It is very obvious they haven’t hired a forensic digital data expert yet, and they are hoping to find out what was on that phone through the state’s forensic analysis of the data.

Bernie said “we’ve given them the data in the format they requested it, they can hire their own expert to analyze it.

Maybe one of you legal minds can explain what is work product and what is discovery that needs to be given to the defense.

For the following reasons, I believe the defense is committing malpractice by not employing its own team of experts to review all of the raw data and bench notes generated by the State’s experts.

The defense asked the State to turn over the raw data generated by all of the State’s experts and I believe the State has complied with that request.

This was an appropriate request that I would have made.

I specialized in forensics and I was more interested in the raw data and bench notes rather than an expert’s opinion, or interpretation of the raw data, because I was used to seeing interpretations that conflicted with or were not supported by the raw data and bench notes. If the lawyer does not have the raw data and bench notes to compare to the expert’s report, the lawyer has no way of evaluating the accuracy of an expert’s conclusions.

Literally, an expert’s report is worthless without the raw data and bench notes to support it.

Since the vast majority of criminal defense lawyers do not know squat about science and forensics, they would have no idea how to interpret raw data and bench notes. Most do not even know what bench notes are.

Given the alarmingly high rate of forensic fraud in public and privately owned and operated crime labs in this country, I believe every criminal defense lawyer absolutely must have the assistance of their own experts to review all of the raw data and bench notes generated by the State’s experts. This is so important that I believe a criminal defense lawyer cannot provide effective assistance of counsel to a client unless he does so. In other words, the failure to do so would potentially constitute a Sixth Amendment violation pursuant to the test set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 US 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984).

I say, “potentially,” because counsel’s failure to secure the assistance of an expert would have to have materially affected the outcome of the trial. That is, that it is more probable than not that the jury verdict would have been different if defense counsel had retained an expert.

Murder trials differ significantly from regular criminal trials in many ways. One of the most significant differences is the prosecution’s heavy reliance on forensic evidence to prove its case. This heavy reliance means that the forensic evidence will almost always qualify as material evidence that more probably than not affects the outcome. For this reason, I believe a criminal defense lawyer commits malpractice in a murder case, if he does not retain experts to review all of the raw data and bench notes generated by the State’s experts.

That is the only way to effectively evaluate the validity of the conclusions and opinions expressed by the State’s experts. Asking them to interpret their own data is worthless because they are not going to admit that the raw data does not support their conclusions.

This is why I said the defense did the right thing by requesting the raw data.

Of course, it’s useless to them, if they do not know how to interpret it.

This is why the defense should have assembled its own team of experts last summer to review all of the raw data and bench notes generated by the State’s experts. Of course, the assistance of its own expert would ordinarily not be necessary, if the conclusions and opinions of the State’s expert are exculpatory.

However, the defense has no reason to believe that any of the State’s forensic evidence is exculpatory since Bernie de la Rionda did not advise the defense that it was. Therefore, the defense has to assume that the evidence is not exculpatory and this means that it must retain its own experts to review all of the raw data and bench notes generated by the State’s experts. Obviously, that includes the raw data retrieved from Trayvon’s phone.

For this reason, I consider West’s whiny request for assistance from the State in understanding the raw data on Trayvon’s phone to be an admission of malpractice.

Aside from ignorance, the obvious problem for the defense is lack of money. However, the defense created that problem by not setting aside sufficient funds for experts.

The solution is to admit the egregious and grossly negligent mistake and apply to the court for the relief that the defendant is entitled to pursuant to Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 US 68, 105 S. Ct. 1087, 84 L. Ed. 2d 53 (1985). However, that would require a finding that the defendant is indigent. Apparently, he has too much pride to do that and his lawyers have too much pride to admit that they screwed up.

That brings us to where we are today, a little over 30 days before a murder trial with a stubborn defendant represented by two lawyers who do not know what they are doing.

Finally, Amsterdam1234 specifically asked about discovery violations.

The State has not committed a discovery violation and the defense should STFU and get its own expert instead of whining about not being able to comprehend the raw data retrieved from Trayvon’s phone.

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Fred


Opinion Evidence, Expert Witnesses, And The Plight Of The Injured Plaintiff

January 9, 2012

Junk science and the charlatans for sale who rely on it while masquerading as objective experts above the fray of litigation constitute a serious and continuing problem to the fair administration of justice in our legal system.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) distinguish between ordinary witnesses and expert witnesses. With a few exceptions, such as whether a person appeared to be intoxicated or how fast someone was driving, ordinary witnesses are supposed to restrict their testimony to facts they perceive through their five senses. Experts are permitted to express opinions that are typically expressed to a “reasonable scientific (or medical) certainty.” A major part of the problem for indigent and poor plaintiffs is lack of sufficient funds to hire sufficiently qualified experts. Plaintiffs personal injury lawyers usually advance the costs of such witnesses and reimburse themselves out of a favorable money judgment. In practice, this means that they will not agree to take a case unless they are virtually certain they will win. It also means that the lawyer or firm that takes the case must have a big war chest and there are not very many who do. Meanwhile, corporations and insurance companies have virtually unlimited funds available to retain multiple experts and they routinely subject plaintiffs to delays and hurdles to leap until money runs out and they settle the case for less than it is worth or they drop out.

Fortunately, in criminal cases, an indigent defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to have the court appoint and compensate an expert when an expert’s assistance is “reasonably necessary” to present a defense. Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985).

There are any number of urban legends about undeserving plaintiffs who won multiple million dollar judgments against ‘poor’ corporations and insurance companies, but I doubt that any of the stories are true. Even if some of them are true, they pale when considering the following studies.

When considering whether there should be limits on tort liability for damages due to personal injury, keep in mind that, according to HealthGrades’ fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, patient safety incidents cost the federal Medicare program $8.8 billion and resulted in 238,337 potentially preventable deaths during 2004 through 2006.

This study followed HealthGrades’ studies in 2000-2002 that reported 195,000 preventable deaths per year in U.S. hospitals.

Here are the applicable rules regarding ordinary and expert witness testimony.

As you read the rules and my discussion of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals that follows, keep in mind that one of the many evidence-based debates that we should be having as an educated democratic society, but tragically are not having, is what should we do to reform these rules and other practices to assure fair and equitable results to economically disadvantaged people who suffer personal injury.

Rule 701 provides:

If the witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness’ testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is limited to those opinions or inferences which are

(a) rationally based on the perception of the witness,

(b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’ testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and

(c) not based on scientific, technical, other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.

Rule 702 provides:

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 thereto 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.

In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the United States Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals for birth defects allegedly caused by Bendectin, a drug manufactured by Merrell Dow to prevent pregnant women from suffering morning sickness. The plaintiffs had relied on in vitro and in vivo animal studies, pharmacological studies, and reanalysis of other published studies to show that Bendectin could have caused the birth defects. Nevertheless, trial court had dismissed their lawsuit based on the Frye Rule, which prohibits the use of evidence that has been obtained from using a scientific methodology or process that has not been generally accepted in the scientific community.

The United States Supreme Court rejected the Frye Rule in Daubert as unnecessarily restrictive of new discoveries in science because it amounted to little more than counting heads in the scientific community to determine if a principle or methodology was generally accepted rather than evaluating the merits of the new principle or methodology. Therefore, even though the scientific community had not yet generally accepted that Bendectin caused birth defects, the Court concluded that the studies relied on by the plaintiffs were sufficient such that they should have been been permitted to present them to a jury to consider.

In Daubert the Court basically appointed trial judges to function as gatekeepers in determining whether to admit evidence based on novel scientific principles or methodologies. The Court set forth a non-exclusive checklist for trial judges to apply in assessing the reliability of scientific evidence. The specific factors the Court mentioned are:

(1) whether the expert’s technique or theory can be or has been tested according to some objective process,

(2) whether the technique or theory has been subjected to peer review and publication,

(3) whether there was a known or potential rate of error for the technique or theory and, if so, whether it was applied,

(4) whether applicable laboratory standards and controls were used, and

(5) whether the technique or theory used has been generally accepted in the scientific community (which is the Frye Rule downgraded from an outcome-determinative rule to one of several factors that should be considered).


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