Stressing Demeanor Credibility: Continued Impacts of Melendez-Diaz for Forensic Scientists

From Ronald K. Bullis, Ph.D., J.D., via ForensicMag: "Forensic scientists begin their testimony even before they speak their first words. Even before they take the oath or recite their qualifications, the jury is assessing their credibility by their demeanor. Simply put, demeanor evidence is the body’s compass, pointing in the direction of credibility. It includes gestures, intonations, posture, mannerisms, eye movements, inflections, and expressions. Judges and juries listen and look very closely to demeanor evidence to assess the credibility of forensic testimony. Research has repeatedly shown that demeanor evidence significantly determines court decisions.1 Recently the U.S. Supreme Court has reinforced the importance of demeanor evidence in the 2009 case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.

That decision required forensic scientists to personally testify to their research and conclusions. The Melendez-Diaz Court based its decision on the 6th Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and stressed the essential practice of jurors to see and to hear people testify, not just examine affidavits. Forensic Magazine has tracked the progress and discussed the significance of the Melendez-Diaz case for forensic scientists.3 Before Melendez-Diaz, it was common practice for forensic scientists to submit their results by affidavits. This will no longer be the standard practice. Forensic science testimony now requires as much attention to the manner in which they testify as to their scientific research. It is no longer enough to be good scientists, forensic experts need to be effective communicators.

Because it is unlikely they will have had testimony training or education in their formal schooling, forensic scientists will need to get additional training, particularly in communication and persuasion skills, human relations, and relaxation techniques. ..."

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