Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Expert opinion issues arise in Court's affirming conviction of Earle Morris

In State v. Morris, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Earle Morris in the Carolina Investors/HomeGold debacle. On of the more interesting and far reaching aspects of the opinion deals with expert testimony. At trial, the State offered Gregory B. Adams as an expert in corporate and securities laws. Morris argued that Adams was not qualified to opine on issues of corporate and securities laws in South Carolina because Adams is not licensed to practice law in South Carolina. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that generally, "defects in the amount and quality of an expert’s education or experience go to the weight to be accorded the expert’s testimony and not to its admissibility. In South Carolina, expert testimony is admissible where the testimony will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or determining a fact in issue." The Court further held that "the status of Adams’ law license is completely irrelevant to his qualification as an expert. The evidentiary rule governing the qualifications of experts says nothing about professional licensing requirements, and a licensing requirement seems wholly incompatible with Rule 702’s operational framework."

I think the Court went way overboard on this one. To day that the status of an expert's license is "completely irrelevant" to his qualification as an expert is an absurd statement. I know the Supreme Court and the General Assembly are in a turf war over whether the legislature can impose statutory restrictions on expert testimony. But to make such a broad statement about licensure is reckless. Surely when an expert's field is subject to licensure, the holding or failing to hold the requisite license is relevant to the expert's qualification. Perhaps licensure in not dispositive in all cases, but it surely is relevant.

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