For example, what if the person one side puts on the stand has an official position with the state and testifies about things based on their knowledge and experience as a state employee AND the other side puts on a witness not employed by the state but has as much or maybe more knowledge of the matter. Is the latter a "expert witness"?
An expert witness is someone who has specialized knowledge that's not held by the general population. That can be a doctor or scientist, but it can also be almost anyone. With my background in motorcycle road racing, I've qualified as an expert witness on motorcycle safety and wheelies. During law school, I worked on a slip and fall case in a supermarket produce department, and one of the expert witnesses witnesses was a grocery store produce manager who testified about the dangers of wet floors in the produce department and what stores do to minimize the risk.
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The latter might qualify as an expert witness. This is very fact specific. California Evidence Code section 720, subddivision (a), defines an expert witness as follows: "A person is qualified to testify as an expert if he has special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education sufficient to qualify him as an expert on the subject to which his testimony relates. Against the objection of a party, such special knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education must be shown before the witness may testify as an expert."
Note that the expert must not only be qualified in the area in which he or she may be testifying, but the methods and analysis used by the expert in coming to his or her conclusion must also pass a standard of acceptability. The expert's opinion must be shown to be relevant to the matters at issue in the case.
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.
If someone is testifying to facts that they perceived in some way, even if they are using their knowledge and experience to answer, they are not necessarily testifying as an expert. Only if they want to offer an opinion do they need to be qualified as an expert. So it could be that neither of these witnesses are testifying as experts, or it could be that both are. It depends on the questions being asked of them.
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