One of the primary functions of trial judges is to serve as gatekeepers for expert testimony. If an expert’s opinion passes the trial court’s test then a jury should hear the testimony. If not, it should be excluded to avoid confusion, prejudice etc.
What is the test?
Last February I wrote about recent significant tort reform in North Carolina. One major aspect of NC’s reform was that it appeared that NC would start following the federal courts in applying the Daubert test for the admissibility of expert testimony. With the very recent case of State of NC v. McGrady, it is now clear that NC is officially a Daubert state.
What is Daubert? Daubert sets forth the standards/test for the admissibility of expert testimony. It stems from a 1993 US Supreme Court case. It’s so important that it has its own Wikipedia page and several websites. After the 1993 decision federal courts were required to apply Daubert. States, however, were free to follow Daubert or set their own test.
NC’s old test: In the 2004 case of Howerton, the NC Supreme Court specifically rejected Daubert. Instead, until recently, NC followed a 3 step inquiry for evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony: (1) Is the expert’s proffered method of proof sufficiently reliable as an area for expert testimony? (2) Is the witness testifying at trial qualified as an expert in that area of testimony? (3) Is the expert’s testimony relevant? See Howerton.
The new test: With the passage of Daubert, NC state courts will now follow Daubert as set forth in Rule 702(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence. NC now joins the federal courts in applying the rigorous expert admissibility standard. A significant and important change for NC.