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Serving Science and Serving Justice: Ethical Issues Faced by Forensic Linguists in Their Role as Expert Witnesses

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Abstract

Lawyers as advocates for their clients obviously play an important role in litigation—a role strongly mediated by a complex and legally binding set of ethical rules, the Rules for Professional Conduct. Violations of these rules can result in serious sanctions, up to and including disbarment. Expert witnesses, too, play an important role in litigation, because accurate fact-finding often requires scientifically based information critical to reaching the right verdict in the case. However, lacking an enforceable set of professional rules of ethics, scientific experts often are insufficiently attuned to the ethical issues presented during the unfolding of the litigation process. This chapter will highlight seven common aspects of the legal process that potentially raise ethical issues for expert witnesses: (1) the ethical issues involved in being retained by an attorney for a party, (2) the ethical issues involved in turning down participation in a case, (3) the ethical issues involved in expert witness compensation, (4) the ethical issues involved in analysing a case, including confirmation bias and motivation bias on the part of the expert, (5) the ethical issues involved in preparing to testify under oath, (6) the ethical issues involved in drafting expert reports and (7) the ethical issues involved in communications during the trial. The role of the attorney is to single-mindedly serve the interests of their client; the role of the expert witness is to single-mindedly adhere to and faithfully represent their science. The intersection of these roles is the source of ethical challenges to the expert witness; awareness of the potential for ethical issues is key to fulfilling the promise of science to the legal system—to fairly and responsibly bring to bear evidence-based science in the service of justice.

Keywords

  • Conflicts of interest
  • Expert witnesses
  • Forensic analysis
  • Legal discovery
  • Litigation
  • Linguistic evidence
  • Rules for professional conduct
  • Testimony
  • Scientific independence
  • US courts

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Correspondence to Janet Ainsworth .

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Ainsworth, J. (2022). Serving Science and Serving Justice: Ethical Issues Faced by Forensic Linguists in Their Role as Expert Witnesses. In: Guillén-Nieto, V., Stein, D. (eds) Language as Evidence. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84330-4_2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-84330-4_2

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

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  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-84330-4

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