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April 30, 2013
Senate takes up expert witness bill

The Florida Senate began considering a bill to change the standard used to evaluate expert witnesses in state courts, as the House took up its measure on the floor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on April 15 voted 6-3 to approve SB 1412, which would mandate the state switch from the Frye standard it uses now to the Daubert standard that is used in federal courts.

“The Frye standard has been in for 90 years and it’s time we had a stronger expert witness criteria that goes to relevant facts and proven scientific theory,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, sponsor of the bill.

Richter and other supporters of the bill argued that the Frye standard can allow junk science and testimony from questionable expert witnesses and that Daubert sets a higher scientific standard.

However, opponents, including the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said Daubert can lead to needless hearings on expert witnesses, raising the fees for plaintiffs and tying up scarce court time and resources.

Although the bill passed the committee, one supporter, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he may be looking for a compromise if the bill, which still must go to the Rules Committee, reaches the Senate floor. He noted that last year, the Senate adopted a compromise position proposed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that was a combination of the Daubert and Frye standards.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, was more definite. “There are hybrids and Florida needs to look at them,” she said. “I’m not supporting this today or on the floor unless we come up with a better solution.”

The issue died last year when the House bill adopted a strict Daubert standard while the Senate went with a mix of Daubert and Frye. Richter said he opposes any attempt to combine the two, calling last year’s Senate solution “Frye in disguise.”

Two days after the committee acted, the House version, HB 7015, reached the House floor. It was heard on second reading and set for a final vote, which had not been scheduled as this News went to press.

[Revised: 10-21-2014]