The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Presenting evidence concerning human remains: Improving expert testimony


Department of Anthropololgy, University of Utah

Saturday Morning, 301D Add to calendar

As forensic anthropologists we have a fundamental understanding that our role as scientists does not end with the creation of a biological profile, trauma analysis, or a potential identification. To fully serve the medico-legal system we must be willing and able to defend our actions, methods, and conclusions in a court of law. We must be expert witnesses. This is something that the late Dr. Karen Ramey Burns strongly emphasized, both in her own career and in her teachings. She understood the importance of presenting information in a comprehensible manner, while maintaining the integrity of the methods, analysis, and the evidence itself. Being an effective witness requires an understanding of the law, the expectations of retaining counsel, and our own limitations. However, these are not aspects typically available in the repertoire of a newly minted anthropology PhD. Thus, in order to be an effective expert, we should look to the interactions Dr. Burns was trying to promote in her last years and foster relationships between forensic scientists and counsel, while both are still in school. This presentation will discuss how increased interaction between graduate and law students during training can cultivate better experts who are familiar with the law and Federal Rules of Evidence, as well as lawyers who better understand the services and limitations of the experts they employ. This interdisciplinary instruction should become a vital part of the education of these individuals in order to promote improved expert testimony.


comments powered by Disqus