Court Qualifies Learning Disabled State Expert

In a rather astonishing opinion the Maine Appellate court has ruled that an expert witnesses’ inability to add or subtract, or know right from left, did not disqualify him as an expert competent to offer his opinion on a drunk driving causing serious injury case to the jury.

In this case the defendant lost control of his truck and crashed, injuring himself and the victim, leaving the victim paralyzed from the waist down. A blood-alcohol test administered at the hospital less than three hours after the accident registered defendant’s blood-alcohol level at 0.16%. The defendant was subsequently indicted for aggravated assault and aggravated OUI .

The primary issue at the defendant’s trial was the identity of the vehicle’s driver at the time of the accident.  The state expert identified the driver based on his “left sided” injuries, as opposed to the passenger who had “right sided” injuries.  The State’s expert further testified on the issue of defendant’s blood-alcohol level, extrapolating from the result of the blood-alcohol test taken at the hospital back to the time of the accident.

The defense attorney argued that the state expert was not qualified to offer his opinion because of a particular exchange during voir dire in which the State’s expert, attempting to describe the nature of his condition, testified that, “I do not know right from left and I do not-am not able to add or subtract even simple numbers.” Noting that the State’s expert was ultimately asked to calculate defendant’s blood-alcohol level and to explain the significance of left-sided and right-sided injuries, defendant contends that the State’s expert’s learning disability rendered him incompetent to testify.

After conducting a voir dire examination, outside the presence of the jury, the court denied defendant’s motion. The court found that the State’s expert was sufficiently qualified to testify and that the jury should decide the weight to be given to the expert’s conclusions. In the court’s words:

We find no clear error in the court’s competency determination. Notwithstanding the State’s expert’s self-reported learning disability, the court was able to observe the apparent fluency with which he explained his opinions, including his ability to distinguish right-sided and left-sided injury patterns and perform the calculations necessary to extrapolate from the results of defendant’s blood-alcohol test.

What is most astonishing about this opinion is the disparity with which the courts generally treat state experts vs. defense experts.  Courts seem generally to bend over backwards to find ways to approve state experts, while looking for any reason to disqualify a defense expert.  One is left to wonder what would have happened had this been a defense expert.

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