Conclusions

In both forensic and workplace drug testing, an expert witness is needed to render an opinion regarding the validity or lack of validity for laboratory results. In summary, there are seven important things regarding a trial and expert witness.

1. Establish expertise in the field: The point of sharing an expert's background with a judge or jury is to inform them how the expert is qualified to advocate for the science involved in a particular case.

2. Recognize the limits of expertise: Equally important as sharing expert qualifications with a judge, jury, or arbiter is narrowing the scope of the expert witness. It is important to avoid offering opinions on subjects that fall outside the realm of the expertise of an expert witness.

3. "Garbage in, Garbage out": If the expert witness is presented with inaccurate or incomplete information during the course of a case, it is undoubtedly going to affect the opinion of the expert witness. If opposing counsel tries to dismiss the opinion as faulty, it is important to remind them the opinion is based on the totality of expertise. If the defense wants to introduce new facts for consideration, the expert should be given the proper time to review the new documents.

4. Avoid being referred to as a "hired gun": The last thing an expert wants to do is sacrifice his or her professional reputation to make a quick profit. There are a number of experts who will modify their opinions to fit the needs of an attorney, but it is not wise to do it because of possibility of loss of reputation as an expert witness for future cases.

5. Stick to the science and the expert opinion will never be impeached: When caught in the middle of cross-examination, it is important to remember that opposing counsel's sole objective is to damage the expert's credibility in the eyes of the jury. It is vital to carefully listen to each question before providing an answer, and let the science be the only guide.

6. Stay one step ahead of opposing expert witnesses: An expert witness should know the experts hired by opposing council and the other plans to discredit his or her testimony. Preparation to effectively address any argument that is introduced is an important part of rendering and effective opinion.

7. Consultation fee for an expert: It is expected that experts are compensated for the time spent preparing for trial. If the opposing attorney asks if the expert is being paid for their services, it is important to be honest. However, equally important is to make the distinction that it is the expert's time being paid for, not the actual testimony.

In addition, there are several challenges for expert witnesses on the horizon. In workplace proceedings where drug testing results are the basis for employment action, there are often administrative factors that are being challenged as well, the drug testing result is only a part of the process. The regulatory aspects of the federal workplace urine drug testing program provide a widely accepted basis for testing, and there is substantial precedent validating the testing methodologies and commonly applied administrative cutoffs. If the technical aspects are sound, there may be only a perfunctory challenge to the results. However, as newer, alternative matrices and technologies become more widely utilized in drug testing, there will likely be a renewed challenge to the expert witness to establish the sound scientific and technical basis for acceptance of the new matrix and technology.

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