The Use of Expert Witnesses at Trial (Forensic Accountants and Psychologists)
While, in most instances, someone who is to be a witness at a trial must have, by the use of one or more of their five senses, experienced some aspect of the case they will be testifying for. There are however exceptions and these people are called “expert witnesses”. An expert witness is defined as” a person who is a specialist in a subject, often technical, who may present his/her expert opinion without having been witness to any occurrence relating to the lawsuit or criminal case”. Further, Wikipedia goes on to say, “An expert witness in England, Wales, and the United States, is a person whose opinion, by virtue of education, training, certification, skills, or experience, is accepted by the judge as an expert.” An expert’s evidence or opinion may be given only within their area of expertise and rebuttal by testimony from other experts, evidence, or facts may occur. Examples of an expert witness would be a pediatric doctor, a dental surgeon, a construction engineer, and a tax expert from the IRS. By using expert witnesses, information may be gained at a level not usually known or understood by those untrained in the specialty under consideration. Here, an example would be when proving a child’s behavior is a result of age appropriateness as well as circumstances.
Two of the most frequently used expert witness are psychologists and forensic accountants.
In the realm of proving a person or persons either responsible for, or the recipient of, a particular action or circumstance, a certified, licensed psychologist can be very helpful in showing how the actions of a person can result in certain forms of behavior, both positive and negative. How one’s behavior is formed and by whom often needs to be proven, particularly in the case of minor children when there is evidence of mistreatment or mental health issues. Psychologists, while not medical doctors, are highly trained in the emotional and mental development of humans as well as basic physical development. They also understand the myriad of interactions that can take place between persons such as children and caregivers, men and women, siblings, and students and teachers, to name a few. Too, they are knowledgeable of the latest findings on heredity versus learned or environmentally influenced behavior. All of this is valuable to a judge or jury who must determine the outcome of a case involving the lives of children and/or adults.
Forensic accountants make up another important group of expert witnesses. These specialists are used in litigation support when it is important to have expert accounting, investigative, and auditing skills made available on the witness stand. According to forensic accountant and author, Alan Zysman, “Forensic Accounting provides an accounting analysis that is suitable to the court which will form the basis for discussion, debate, and ultimately dispute resolution”. Some of the situations a forensic account could be used for during a Family Law litigation such as divorce (dissolution of marriage) or post judgment modification of alimony or child support include determination of income for child support, analyzing lifestyles for the consideration of alimony (spousal support), working out equitable distribution problems, business valuations, and bankruptcy.
In conclusion, it can be said that by the court allowing testimony from expert witnesses, both the judge and/or jury are able to come to a better, more enlightened decision. Human nature being what it is, it often takes a person highly qualified in the field of psychology or in the field of accurate, truthful accounting, to set the record straight.