Expert witness

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An expert witness, professional witness or judicial expert is a witness, who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience, is believed to have expertise and specialised knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially and legally rely upon the witness's specialized (scientific, technical or other) opinion about an evidence or fact issue within the scope of his expertise, referred to as the expert opinion, as an assistance to the fact-finder.[1] Expert witnesses may also deliver expert evidence about facts from the domain of their expertise.[2] At times, their testimony may be rebutted with a learned treatise, sometimes to the detriment of their reputations. In Scots Law, Davie v Magistrates of Edinburgh (1953) provides authority that where a witness has particular knowledge or skills in an area being examined by the court, and has been called to court in order to elaborate on that area for the benefit of the court, that witness may give evidence of his opinion on that area.[3]

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Experts in the real world

Typically, experts are relied on for opinions on severity of injury, degree of insanity, cause of failure in a machine or other device, loss of earnings, care costs, and the like. In an intellectual property case, an expert may be shown two music scores, book texts, or circuit boards and asked to ascertain their degree of similarity.

The tribunal itself, or the judge, can in some systems call upon experts to technically evaluate a certain fact or action, in order to provide the court with a complete knowledge on the fact/action it is judging. The expertise has the legal value of an acquisition of data. The results of these experts are then compared to those by the experts of the parties.

The expert has a heavy responsibility, especially in penal trials, and perjury by an expert is a severely punished crime in most countries. The use of expert witnesses is sometimes criticized in the United States because in civil trials, they are often used by both sides to advocate differing positions, and it is left up to a jury of laymen to decide which expert witness to believe. Although experts are legally prohibited from expressing their opinion of submitted evidence until after they are hired, sometimes a party can surmise beforehand, because of reputation or prior cases, that the testimony will be favorable regardless of any basis in the submitted data; such experts are commonly disparaged as "hired guns." Junk science gets its pejorative name from theories utilized by supposed experts in legal and political debate.

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