Thursday, January 18, 2007

S.C. Court of Appeals clarifies types of expert testimony subject to the Jones factors

In State v. White, the Court of Appeals considered whether the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of State's expert witness, a dog handler, without establishing the underlying scientific reliability of dog tracking. In considering the admissibility of scientific and technical evidence, South Carolina courts look to the Jones factors: (1) the publications and peer review of the technique; (2) prior application of the method to the type of evidence involved in the case; (3) the quality control procedures used to ensure reliability; and (4) the consistency of the method with recognized scientific laws and procedures.

In this case, the court of appeals emphasized that not all expert testimony is subject to a Jones analysis. A trial court's threshold inquiry, according to the court, is whether the expert's methods and techniques even fall within Jones' central purpose: to prevent the aura of infallibility which surrounds "scientific hypotheses not capable of proof or disproof in court and not even generally accepted outside the courtroom" from misleading the fact finders. The dog handling evidence was based on "specialized knowledge" and thus a Jones analysis was not warranted because "scientific techniques" are inapplicable to the type of evidence offered.

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