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April 15, 2013
House expert witness bill clears panel

A bill changing the standard for evaluating expert witnesses testifying in Florida courtrooms is heading for the floor of the House of Representatives after clearing its final two committees in the lower chamber.

Rep. Larry Metz HB 7015 would impose the Daubert (509 U.S. 579 40 (1993)) standard for expert testimony, instead of the Frye (293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923)) standard now used in state courts.

Proponents argue that Daubert sets a higher scientific standard and lets the judge be a more effective gatekeeper for expert testimony, while opponents say it leads to needless hearings to qualify experts and raises the costs for plaintiffs. The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association has opposed the bill, saying it will be costly to retain prosecutors to use Daubert and it will bog down criminal trials with needless hearings.

The bill passed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee 8-4 on March 28 and from the House Judiciary Committee 12-5 on April 3.

Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, chair of the Civil Justice Subcommittee, which proposed the bill, questioned the prosecutors’ estimate that the bill would have a $1.1 million impact on their budget.

“We’ve had it in the federal court system for 20 years and in the majority of other states for several years and the sky has not fallen,” he said at the appropriations subcommittee.

But Ninth Circuit State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton likened the bill to “a scud missile landing in my living room.”

He said every time a prosecutor wants to call a fingerprint, DNA, or drug testing expert, the defense will force a Daubert hearing. He said it would impact 1,400 pending drug cases for his office.

If the legislation clears the House — and similar bills have for the past three years — it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary had a workshop on a wide range of tort-related issues, including the Frye and Daubert debate. But the Senate’s ultimate legislation, SB 7030, focused largely on medical malpractice-related issues and didn’t address Daubert or Frye. It would require that experts in those cases come from the identical specialty as the defendant healthcare provider, as opposed to current law to require that the expert come from the same or similar specialty.

Last year, the House passed a bill calling for a “pure” Daubert standard but the Senate amended it to a system that combined Daubert and Frye standards, and the House declined to accept the amendment.

[Revised: 04-04-2014]