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National Conference on Science and the Law: Proceedings

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2000
257 pages
This report describes the proceedings of the National Conference on Science and the Law (San Diego, CA, April 15-16, 1999), which provided a forum to examine issues of concern to legal professionals and scientists and to improve communication between these two groups.
Conference speakers explored how conceptions of science work in a judicial environment; the role of judges as gatekeepers for scientific evidence; how to distinguish between junk science, prescience, and science that is currently under development; using technology in the courtroom; juries and how they relate to scientific evidence; and how experts are defined and the effect they have as providers of evidence in court. Participants discussed the perceived "disconnect" between science and the law, problems that can arise when the two converge in the courtroom, and ways to promote greater understanding and appreciation of what both disciplines seek to achieve. Participants discussed at length and repeatedly referred to three U.S. Supreme Court cases that cover admissibility of expert witness testimony: Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; General Electric Co. v. Joiner; and Kumho Tire v. Carmichael Co. Regarding using technology in the courtroom, speakers said that during a trial, visuals can enhance the witness and his/her credibility. Diagrams, photographs, and physical evidence can be very powerful and in some ways can overshadow a witness. On juries' comprehension of expert testimony, one speaker said that although some studies have shown that jurors have difficulty responding to "probalistic complex statistical evidence," the literature on the subject "tends to paint the jury as a competent decision maker. If the jury is communicated to properly by the lawyers and experts and instructed properly by the judge, it performs reasonably well most of the time." The tone of the conference was largely hopeful and positive.

Date Published: July 1, 2000