Neuropsychology Expert Witness Excluded From Testifying on Memory and Perception

Defendant was indicted for transferring a gun to a minor and for affecting interstate commerce.  Defendant hired an expert witness in memory and perception.  The court excluded this expert from testifying.

Facts: This case (United States v. Vandetta Redwood – United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois – October 20th, 2016) involves a two-count indictment against the defendant (Redwood), one for transferring a handgun with ammunition to a minor and the other for affecting interstate commerce of a firearm.  Redwood is charged with providing a loaded firearm to her 14 year old cousin, which was used to shoot two teenage girls.  In order to help with her case, Redwood hired Dr. Ken Paller (Neuropsychology Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  Dr. Paller was going to provide testimony on perception and human memory.  The plaintiff (Government) filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony.

Discussion:  The government argues that Redwood has provided testimony on three general topics, all of which are subject to exclusion: 1) The reliability of a witness’s identification as a person; 2) The reliability of a witness’s initial perception of an event; and 3) the reliability of a witness’s memory of an event.

The court first looked at how the Seventh circuit treats expert testimony regarding witness perception and memory.  Historically. the Seventh circuit has not favored expert witness testimony regarding eyewitness perception and memory.  Redwood does not deny this, but argues that the circuit’s position is out of step with the current understanding of eyewitness perception and memory.

The court agreed with the government on all three issues and provided descriptive reasoning for each point.  Regarding the first issue of the reliability of a witness’s identification of a person, the government argues that the identification of Redwood is not at issue here as there were multiple witnesses and a video of Redwood.  The court agreed and opined that Dr. Paller’s testimony regarding the reliability of a witness’s identification will not assist the jury and is thus excluded.

Regarding the second issue of the reliability of a witness’s initial perception of an event, the court repeatedly states that Redwood can use argument and cross-examination to underscore the any witness inconsistent statements and issues with their memory and the jurors will have the opportunity to hear testimony and see the cell phone video.  Consistent with other court cases in the seventh circuit the present court opined that expert testimony regarding witness memory will not be helpful here, will prolong the trial needlessly, and will create a high risk of juror confusion.

The court stated that other considerations serve to reinforce the conclusion of the court. First, that multiple witnesses saw Redwood pass the firearm to the minor enhances the case for excluding the testimony.  Second, other evidence independently supports the government’s case against Redwood.

The court also stated that if the expert witness testimony were to be allowed in this case, it would perpetuate expert-testimony mini-trials and, in the future, it would be difficult to justify excluding testimony on memory and perception in any eyewitness case.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Paller is granted.