Expert Testimony Essay

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Expert testimony is the endpoint of a process involving an expert witness who engages in consultation with an attorney or legal team, reviews case materials, and usually performs an evaluation of an individual who is party to a legal matter. Expert testimony concerning battering can be offered in both civil and criminal cases, including divorce and custody, personal injury, and criminal cases such as homicide and assault, as well as other matters.

Expert testimony in these cases is used to explain battered women’s common experiences and the impact of repeated abuse. It is offered to show the judge and jury the context of a battered woman’s actions. This process of using social science research to provide a social and psychological context to understand and evaluate issues in a legal case has been referred to as social framework testimony.

An expert witness typically describes the clinical, empirical, and theoretical literature in the field of domestic violence—both in cases involving an evaluation of an individual party to the case (case-specific testimony) and in cases involving no such evaluation (general testimony)—to educate the judge and jury about battering and its effects relevant to the case. Relevant topic areas often include the dynamics of battering relationships, danger assessment or risk factors related to serious or lethal violence, women’s perception of danger in abusive relationships, patterns of coercion in intimate partner violence, battered women’s coping behaviors, effects of exposure to intimate partner violence on children, factors that increase vulnerability to partner violence and its effects, the role of substance abuse in intimate partner violence, intimate partner violence within specific groups (e.g., immigrants, lesbians, elderly, ethnic minorities), and traumatic stress and other health, social, and economic consequences of violence exposure.

When an expert has performed an evaluation of an individual (e.g., a victim, an alleged perpetrator, or child witnesses of partner violence), the expert’s testimony also extends to questions that are unique to the specific case under consideration. With rare exception, an opinion about an individual requires an inperson evaluation. The expert evaluation is based on a theoretical and empirical framework that forms the foundation of the expert’s analysis. For example, in a criminal self-defense case, a defendant must demonstrate that his or her behavior was based on a reasonable perception of serious bodily harm, although specific statutory language varies across jurisdictions. An expert’s task is to consider what information is necessary to formulate an explanation of and support a conclusion about relevant questions.

Direct testimony by the retaining attorney is presented in a question and answer format that communicates the conclusion of an evaluation and the basis for it. A cross-examination by the opposing counsel typically challenges the expert’s statements regarding the foundation and/or the conclusions of his or her testimony. An experienced and well-trained expert understands both the strengths and the weaknesses in his or her evaluation and becomes an advocate for that opinion rather than for a party in the matter.


  1. Dutton, M. A. (1998). Suicide prevention. In L. VandeCreek, S. Knapp, & T. L. Jackson (Eds.), Innovations in clinical practice: A source book (Vol. 16, pp. 293–311). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press/Professional Resource Exchange.
  2. Schuller, R. A. (1992). Battered woman syndrome evidence in the courtroom. Law and Human Behavior, 16(3), 273–291.

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