Write an expert witness report on ONE of the cases below. You must ensure that you follow the guidelines provided with regard to the structure and content of the report.
The case details have been adapted from: innocenceproject.org/cases/angel-gonzalez/
Expert Witness Case Report
Letter of instruction:
Dear Dr. Wozniak,
Our firm Stahl Solicitors who represent the defendant Angel Gonzalez, would like to retain you to write a court report drawing on your forensic psychology expertise in relation to his case where he has been charged with sexual assault and kidnapping which is outlined below.
“On the night of July 10, 1994, a woman was abducted by two men from her apartment building in Waukegan, Illinois. The victim had gone downstairs after her buzzer rang and no one came up. When she opened the door, two men grabbed her and forced her into a car. They drove to a backyard several blocks away where they both raped her. After the attack, the victim was completely traumatized. She eventually found a nearby Seven-Eleven, and police were called for assistance. Police obtained an initial description of the attackers from the victim. She described them as two Hispanic men, both about 25 years old, medium weight, slightly taller than her (5’7”), with dark hair. She described the car as a dark colored, late model, four-door sedan with tinted windows. Police returned with the victim to her apartment building to search for evidence later that night. The victim’s boyfriend arrived and spoke with police who gave him a general description of the attackers’ car. From approximately 50 feet away, the victim’s boyfriend then saw Angel Gonzalez’s car pulling out of a parking area on another side of the building. Gonzalez’s car was a dark 1979 Cadillac sedan with tinted windows. The victim’s boyfriend told police that he didn’t think the car belonged on the property (Gonzalez did not live in the building, but was visiting his girlfriend’s sister, who lived there). Officers were unable to catch up with Gonzalez but obtained his license plate number…Gonzalez was stopped by an officer on the road, who approached Gonzalez’s car with a spotlight and his gun already drawn. When Gonzalez asked the officer why he had been stopped, he was only told that his car matched the description of a vehicle that was used in a crime that night. Gonzalez was handcuffed and placed in the officer’s car. Notably, Gonzalez did not match many details in the description of the attackers, which had been radioed in to the officer who stopped him. Gonzalez had a notable goatee and a large birthmark under his right eye; the victim did not mention her attackers having facial hair or a birthmark.
The victim was taken to where Gonzalez’s car had been stopped in order to identify him. With the squad car directly behind and illuminating Gonzalez’s car, the victim positively identified the car. An officer then took Gonzalez out of the squad car and placed him in front of the patrol car in which the victim was sitting in the backseat. The victim did not get out of the car but made her identification from the backseat of the patrol car. After the victim positively identified Gonzalez, he was immediately put back into the squad car, giving the victim no chance to look at him up close”.
We would welcome your expert advice as to the reliability and validity of the said prosecution witness’ testimony regarding the alleged role of our client in the criminal victimisation of Ms. X.
We look forward to receiving your report.
The case details have been adapted from: innocenceproject.org/cases/jeff-deskovic/
Expert Witness Case Report
Letter of instruction:
Dear Dr. Davis,
Our firm Mitchum Solicitors who represent the defendant Mr. Deskovic would like to retain you to write a court report drawing on your forensic psychology expertise in evaluating the outlined interview conditions below under which our client confessed to the crimes of possession of a weapon, rape and murder. This is an American case, however, within this context we would ask you to apply the rigour of PACE 1984 to assess whether the police procedures regard breached the guidelines of this legislation.
On the afternoon of November 15, 1989, the 15-year-old victim went out after school to take pictures for a photography class. She never returned home. Her naked body was found by police dogs the morning of November 17, 1989. Her clothes and cassette player were recovered from the vicinity. She appeared to have been raped, beaten, and strangled.
Jeff Deskovic, then 16 years old, was a classmate of the victim’s. He became a suspect because he was late to school the day after the victim disappeared. Police also believed he seemed overly distraught at the victim’s death, visiting her wake three times. Police spoke with Deskovic eight times in December 1989 and January 1990…Police asked Deskovic to submit to a polygraph examination and he agreed in late January 1990…Deskovic was taken to a private polygraph business run by an officer with the local Sheriff’s Department, who, according to trial testimony, had been hired to “get the confession.” Deskovic was held in a small room there with no lawyer or parent present. He was provided with coffee throughout the day but no food. In between polygraph sessions, detectives interrogated Deskovic. Deskovic’s alleged confession occurred after six hours, three polygraph sessions, and extensive questioning by detectives between sessions. One of the detectives accused Deskovic of having failed the test and said he had been convinced of Deskovic’s guilt for several weeks. According to the detective, Deskovic then stated he “realized” three weeks ago he might be the responsible party. Deskovic was asked to describe the crime and began speaking in the third person, switching to first person part way through the narrative. Deskovic said, “I lost my temper” and admitted he had hit the victim in the head with a Gatorade bottle, put his hand over her mouth and kept it there too long. During the confession, Deskovic sobbed. By the end of the interrogation, he was under the table, curled up in the fetal position, crying”.
We look forward to receiving your report.
Guidance on writing a court report
A court report can be required to provide an expert opinion on a number of different things. Psychologists must adhere to all appropriate and relevant professional guidelines to avoid charges of negligence or exceeding their professional boundaries of expertise.
The psychologist must always remember to act impartially, regardless of who has employed them. They are not a ‘a hired gun’ for either the prosecution or the defence. All judgements and opinions they provide must should be supported by empirical and rigorously robust academic research and. As an expert witness they are unique in the court room in that they are allowed to present their opinion (rather than just the facts). However, this opinion must be supported by research which should be cited as appropriate. It is important for the psychologist to be familiar with the current available literature on the subject and thoroughly versed in it. As it would discredit their testimony if lawyers for the opposing counsel were able to demonstrate that there were studies or theories that they had overlooked.
The structure of the court report is important. The following steps offer an outline of how the report should be structured and what information it should include.
- Title Page (separate page)
- State your name and specialist expertise.
- Explain who has ordered this report and for what purpose.
- Contents Page (separate page)
- This should introduce the psychologist and outline their qualifications and relevant training, experience, professional membership etc.
- State the nature of the case
- Provide your conclusions in brief.
- Main Text
Present your arguments in relation to the facts outlined. You may write in the first person as you are being asked for your opinions. Use the following structure to present your argument:
- State the issue being examined
- Then state the facts (from the case details provided).
- Provide your opinion drawing on the relevant psychological research to support your argument.
Please note each issue highlighted in the case details should be discussed separately using the above format.
Summarise your main arguments/points and provide conclusions regarding the identified issues (facts of the case).
These should list the sources of information the psychologist has drawn from (i.e. your reference section NOT a bibliography!).
Things to remember:
- The first thing to remember is that each and every paragraph must be uniquely numbered to allow for easy reference in court.
- All language must be clear and concise and psychology jargon avoided.
- Opinions are allowed but ONLY if they are backed up with fact and academic research
- The Psychologist must work independently and not on behalf of a particular side, regardless of who hired them.