Behavioral Science Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part in Criminal Records Case

Summary: Behavioral Science Expert Witness testimony allowed in part as the court opined that the report would assist the trier of fact.

Facts:  This case (TAHA v. BENSALEM TOWNSHIP et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania – April 29th, 2019) involves a class action claim under Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (“CHRIA”).  The plaintiffs allege that the defendants illegally published the arrest records of thousands of individuals on a publicly searchable database.  The only remaining issues in this case are whether the defendants are subject to punitive damages for their violations of the CHRIA because their violations were willful, and the amount of those punitive damages.  To that end, the plaintiffs have hired Behavioral Science Expert Witness Sarah Lageson, PhD to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Lageson’s report addresses the social, professional, and emotional consequences for persons portrayed in an inmate lookup tool and opines on the harms that are associated with the release of criminal history information.  The defendants do not argue that Lageson is not qualified to testify in this case as she is an Assistant Professor at the Rutgers University-Newark School of Criminal Justice.  They do content that her testimony will not assist the trier of fact and should be excluded.

The defendants allege that Lageson’s testimony would not assist the trier of fact because it speaks to the effects that Defendants’ conduct had on class members rather than whether Defendants’ conduct was willful in the first place.  The court notes that the plaintiffs do not offer cogent explanation for how Lageson’s proposed testimony and report would bear on the wilfulness of the defendants actions.  Thus, as to the question of wilfulness, the defendants’ motion will be granted.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness report of Sarah Lageson is granted in part and denied in part.