What are Daubert Motions?

Legal Compliance Resource
September 5, 2012 — 1,475 views  

In the course of criminal or civil proceedings, it is often desirable to challenge the validity and admissibility of the scientific methodology used by purported “expert witnesses” to arrive at conclusions regarding the facts in a given case. Such challenges are usually described as “Daubert motions” and are based on the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 516 U.S. 869, 1995. This short posting will briefly describe Daubert motions and how to determine when they should be used.

In general, a Daubert motion is raised during discovery in order to challenge the planned presentation of evidence to a jury by seeking to disallow the testimony of a witness who is felt to have insufficient expertise or if that witness has used scientifically-unreliable analysis to arrive at his or her conclusions. Central to such motions is the request that the court apply what is known as the “Daubert Test” to the proposed expert testimony.

When applying the Daubert Test to determine the admissibility of expert testimony, the court must first determine (1) if the reasoning or methodology supporting the expert’s testimony is scientifically valid and (2) whether or not that reasoning or methodology can be applied to the facts at issue. If the party seeking the admission of expert testimony cannot conclusively establish that both criteria have been fulfilled, the court must exclude such testimony. In cases where there is essentially an even division of opinion, the court may allow the testimony but leave it to the jury’s discretion as to how much credibility it should be granted.

As noted above, a Daubert motion may be filed by either side in a case. Ideally, such motions should be filed prior to trial and preferably before the jury is seated. The motion is generally considered after the initial filing is presented, with a reasonable allowance of time for the filing of responses and replies to responses. In addition to written motions, the court may agree to hear oral arguments regarding the motion and responses. Once the court’s decision has been reached regarding the Daubert motion, the case is allowed to proceed.

Strictly speaking, the Daubert test applies only in federal courts and only to issues that arise under Rule 702, “Testimony by Experts,” of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Depending on local practice and procedure, some state courts may not apply the Daubert Test in matters of expert testimony.

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