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Generation Y: Today’s Expectations of Expert Witnesses

DonanEngineering Fire Investigation

Generation Y retains 87% of what they see while retaining only 10% of what they hear, and they comprise the majority of today’s juries. These jurors have become accustomed to solving the most complex cases in one or two hours using the application of state-of-the-art technology, medicine, chemistry, and forensic science while sitting in the comfort of their homes.

Expert witness preparation for the courtroom always begins at the scene. Experts should be thinking not only about the scientific method, but also about the demonstrative evidence that will be needed to support their opinions. Experts have the responsibility to present concise, convincing, and quantified opinions at any legal proceeding. The use of demonstrative evidence to educate jurors is not optional with today’s jurors: it allows the expert to bring the juror back to the scene. The jurors should be using as many of their senses as possible to analyze and understand the expert’s opinion.

It is not enough to tell jurors how the final hypothesis was developed. We must use demonstrative evidence that allows the jurors to see, analyze, comprehend, and validate the expert opinion.

The function of any expert witness is to be an instructor and to educate the jurors and the court. We have all attended formal training seminars at some point during our careers. Ask yourself this question: What are my expectations of an instructor at a training seminar? At the end of the seminar, how would I evaluate an instructor if he/she did not use a PowerPoint presentation or any other type of visual teaching aids? What credibility would you attach to the instructor who simply stood at the podium and spoke for the duration of the presentation? Would you even stay awake?

Demonstrative evidence can be in the form of videos taken during live burns used to test the fire investigator’s hypothesis. An animated re-creation of the fire using fire modeling technology can be very useful. Computer software is now available to create both two-dimensional and virtual three-dimensional drawings. Today’s software allows an expert to walk jurors into a room or building, showing them a 360-degree view by merging photos. Experts must remain up-to-date with the latest technology.

The most commonly used demonstrative evidence in legal proceedings is photographs. In preparing to testify, the expert should consider blowing up the photos that are critical to his/her testimony. A photo may be worth a thousand words, but how much more effective are those words to a jury when they see not a 4-inch by 6-inch photo but a 3-foot by 5-foot photo?

Generation Y is technologically savvy, and they are your target audience. The courtroom is a classroom, and you are the instructor. The recognition of this important detail is critical to your success in the courtroom!