Supreme Court Decisions

Issue Overview

Three major U.S. Supreme Court decisions address expert testimony, including evidence presented by scientific experts. In June 1993 the Supreme Court, in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., directed federal judges to act as “gatekeepers” with respect to expert testimony. Prior to Daubert, most federal and state court judges relied on two standards to decide if expert testimony was admissible: relevance (if the testimony addressed a fact at issue in the case and if it would be helpful to the jury) and "general acceptance," a concept established in the 1923 Frye ruling, which held that the methods used by an expert in forming his scientific conclusions must be "generally accepted" in his field of expertise.

In Daubert, the Supreme Court instructed federal judges to serve as “gatekeepers, examining the scientific method underlying the expert’s testimony and admitting only evidence that is both “relevant” and “reliable.” In a subsequent decision, the Supreme Court suggested that appellate court judges should reverse decisions made by trial judges regarding admissibility of expert testimony only if the trial judge abused his discretion (General Electric v. Joiner (1997)). In 1999, the Supreme Court clarified that Daubert would apply to all expert testimony, not just evidence that relies on science (Kumho Tire v. Carmichael).

Court Decisions

Featured Scholarship

Berger MA. What Has A Decade of Daubert Wrought? Am J Public Health (Vol 95, S1) July 2005.

Haack S. Trial and Error: The Supreme Court's Philosphy of Science.  Am J Public Health (Vol 95, S1) July 2005.

Cecil J. Ten Years of Judicial Gatekeeping Under Daubert. Am J Public Health (Vol 95, S1) July 2005.

Neufeld PJ. The (Near) Irrelevance of Daubert to Criminal Justice and Some Suggestions for Reform.  Am J Public Health (Vol 95, S1) July 2005.

Berger MA. Expert Testimony: The Supreme Court's Rules.  Issues in Science and Technology. 2000 Summer.