Ever Considered an ER Doc as an Expert Witness?
I recently stumbled on the NAPD website, and was impressed. I'm now a new member of NAPD, and I wanted to thank all of you for what you do!
As an emergency physician who has periodically worked with public defenders in Maryland as an expert witness, I have come to recognize we (“ER docs” and public defenders) often serve the same segment of society. With overlapping clients, we see the same problems from a different perspective.
I'm a full time ER doc (or more properly – EP – emergency physician). I occasionally work with the Maryland OPD as a medical expert, and I have learned a lot from doing this. I have also been surprised at how often I can help. I'm not a trained Forensic scientist, so there are questions and issues that I can't address. But since a lot of public defense issues are related to an injury(s) (think assaults, accidents, etc.) and overdoses/drug use/ intoxication, I am often able to help public defenders by reviewing medical information and defending their clients.
I'm not trying to praise myself, but I think that the expertise of an emergency physician would be helpful on many cases. I think this is an undeveloped resource for public defenders. I haven't yet found a way to promote this among my EP colleagues, but I think the OPD in Baltimore found me through an Internet search for expert witnesses.
With time constraints and financial limitations, finding a medical expert might be difficult for many public defenders. A good EP could be a valuable resource for a lot of public defense cases. (I've learned from the public defenders that I've worked with that often just having a physician review medical records is very helpful. And many of the medical records that are relevant to public defense are ER records.
What are the actual injuries in this case? How is it most likely that this injury occurred? Is this first-degree assault? Do the injuries fit the description of what happened? How intoxicated was this patient? These questions are directly relevant to the expertise of an emergency physician. I used to tell public defenders, “I'm not sure I can help your client”, when these answers didn't seem to help their client. But I've learned that even when the medical evidence is indeterminate, this often supports “reasonable doubt”. And having an objective medical opinion- and clarity about the extent of injury or intoxication – is often helpful. I've learned that most juries react favorably to an expert's presence in the courtroom when they provide objective testimony. Since my role as an expert is limited to objectively evaluating the medical evidence, I often don't know what really happened. But I have learned that testifying that a defendant's version of events is possible is often helpful. Even if an astute prosecutor challenges this by asking about other possibilities, the phrase, “the medical evidence is consistent with…( a defendant's version of how an event occurred)” can be very convincing to a jury.
I've come to admire the difficult work involved in public defense, and wanted to thank all of you who serve in this way. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if there is anything I can do to help you. (If you can't find an emergency physician in your area who would be willing to serve as an expert witness, I might be able to refer you to someone). My contact information is listed on the NAPD website.