Police Procedures Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendants for alleged civil rights violations.  The plaintiff hired a police procedures expert witness and the defendants filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony.  The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Facts:  This civil rights case (Nicole Harris v. City of Chicago, et al. – United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois – June 5th, 2017) involves a false and fabricated confession, elicited after 30 hours of interrogation, which led to the plaintiff’s conviction of murdering her four-year-old son.  The plaintiff has filed this case against the defendants after she has been found innocent of all charges against her.  Harris has hired Dr. Richard A. Leo, a Police Procedures Expert Witness, specifically in the area of false confession/coercive interrogation.  The defendants have filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony:

Discussion: The defendants argue that Dr. Leo’s expert opinion testimony should be excluded based on reliability and relevance.  Particularly, they argue that Dr. Leo’s testimony is unreliable because his opinions are not based on science or a specialized area of knowledge.  In addition, some of his opinions do not apply his special knowledge to the facts of this particular case.  Also, they argue that his opinion deals with witness credibility, which is the territory of the jury.  Penultimately, some of his opinions are legal opinions.  Last, they argue that false confessions in and of themselves are not disputed and thus, are not helpful to the jury.

The court first looked at the argument that Dr. Leo’s expert opinions should be excluded because they are not based on reliable science or specialized knowledge.  Dr. Leo explained that there is a well-established empirical field of study and research on the topic of police interrogation practices, coercion, and false confessions, which dates back to 1908.  In addition, he stated that this research is generally accepted in the social scientific community and that courts have applied it in civil and criminal litigation.  The court agreed with the plaintiff on this issue, opining that the defendants did not establish that Dr. Leo’s methodology is unreliable.  The court went on to say that Dr. Leo’s opinions are based on a accepted, sound, and reliable methodology.

Second, the defendants argue that Dr. Leo did not apply his on research to the facts of this particular case.  They point to one of Dr. Leo’s opinion which they say is not linked to his area of expertise.  The court again agreed with the plaintiff, by stating that it will be up to the jury to determine this issue.  In addition, the defendants also argue that Dr. Leo is not qualified to discuss the plaintiff’s personality and psychological traits.  The court disagreed as well.

In addition, the defendants argue that Dr. Leo’s expert opinions touch on witness credibility, which is the exclusive province of the jury.  The court agreed with the defendants in this piece.  However, the court did side with the plaintiff on the two remaining issues, that of legal conclusions and helpfulness to the jury.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Leo is granted in part and denied in part.