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The U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence: Expert Witness Testimony

The U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence govern the admission of evidence, both criminal and civil, by which parties to a lawsuit may prove their cases. In addition to governing the initial presentation of evidence in federal courts, the FRE regulates the evidence that the jury may consider when reaching a verdict. The rules of the FRE center on several ideas, including efficiency, reliability, unfair surprise, overall fairness, and relevance. The federal rules of evidence define relevance very broadly, and relax the prohibitions on a witness' competency to testify in court. Rule seven of the FRE specifically applies to opinions and the testimony of expert witnesses.

Rule 702: Testimony by Experts
If specialized, technical, or scientific knowledge will aid the trier of fact to better understand the presented evidence or to assist in the determination of a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert may testify to that fact in the form of an opinion. This is applicable if the testimony is based upon a sufficient amount of information or facts, if the testimony is the product of credible and reliable methods and principles, and if the expert witness has diligently applied those methods and principles reliably to the facts presented in the case.

Rule 703: Bases of Opinion Testimony by Experts
Rule 703 states that any facts or information used by an expert witness to base his or her opinion on may be facts that have been made known to that expert before or during the trial or hearing. The facts and information are not required to be admissible into evidence if they are of the type that is relied upon by other experts in that particular field.

Rule 704: Opinion on Ultimate Issue
(a) Except as provided in subdivision b, an opinion offered as testimony that is otherwise admissible will not be considered objectionable because the ultimate issue of that testimony is to be determined by the trier of fact in the case.

(b) An expert witness testifying to the mental condition or state of a defendant in any criminal case may not state an opinion as to whether or not that defendant did or did not have the mental condition or state constituting any element of the charged crime or of its defense. Such issues are matters only for the trier of fact in the case.

Rule 705: Disclosure of Facts or Data Underlying Expert Opinion
The expert in a court proceeding may testify using inference or opinion and provide reasons for those opinions without testifying to the underlying facts first, unless the court requires the expert witness to do otherwise. The expert may be required by the court to disclose any underlying facts on cross-examination.

Rule 706: Court Appointed Experts
(a) Appointment: The court may on its own, or on the motion of any party to the proceeding, enter an order to show cause as to why an expert witness should not be appointed, and may request all parties to submit nominations for experts. The court may appoint any expert agreed upon by the involved parties, and may appoint experts of its own selection instead. No expert witness will be appointed by the court without the witness' consent to act. Any witness so appointed by the court will be informed of their duties in writing, a complete copy of which will be filed with the clerk of court, or at a conference in which all parties will have the opportunity to participate. An appointed witness will advise all parties of any findings. Any party may depose the expert witness, and the witness may be called by any party or by the court to testify. Each party will have the right to cross-examine the expert.

(b) Compensation: An appointed expert witness is entitled to an amount of compensation deemed reasonable and allowed by the court. The compensation may be payable from funds provided by law involving just compensation, or may be paid by the parties to the proceeding as directed by the court.

(c) Disclosure of Appointment: The court may authorize, at its discretion, disclosure to the jury that the witness is court appointed.

(d) Parties' Experts of Own Selection: No part of this rule limits or prohibits the parties from calling an expert witness of their own choosing.

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