Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Travel Grant Eligibility Requirements:
1. The applicant must either be an AAFS member/affiliate or an AAFS applicant for membership.
2. The applicant must have submitted an abstract either as a presenter or co-author for the annual meeting he/she will be attending.
3. The applicant must be a fourth year undergraduate or a graduate student at an accredited four-year college, university, or professional school whose accreditation is acceptable to the FSF Board of Trustees.
4. The applicant must have a letter of recommendation from his/her advisor or professor.
5. The applicant must submit a 400-600 word essay explaining how attendance at an AAFS meeting will impact his/her career decision.
6. The applicant must submit a curriculum vitae to include specifics regarding their involvement in forensic science.
All submissions must be completed and received by October 15. The deadline is firm with no extensions. Incomplete submissions will not be reviewed. Please submit the aforementioned Student Travel Grant Requirements electronically to Kimberly Wrasse email@example.com, or by mail to: Kimberly Wrasse, FSF, 410 North 21st Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.
Continuing Education Coordinator
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
410 North 21st Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Monday, August 5, 2013
This is the most important qualification for an expert witness in the field of pathology. Just because an expert claims to be "board-certified" does not mean he or she is. Not all board certifications are the same. The American Board of Pathology is the only board offering certification in forensic pathology in which the applicant has the following qualifications:
- Graduated with an M.D. Or D.O. Degree from an American College of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited medical or osteopathic school.
- Licensed to practice allopathic or osteopathic medicine.
- Completed a minimum of 3 years training at an ACGME accredited pathology residency program
- Completed a minimum of 1 year training at an ACGME accredited forensic pathology fellowship program
- Has passed qualification examinations in Anatomic Pathology and Forensic Pathology.
2. Where was the pathologist educated and trained?
Ask for the expert's curriculum vitae or resume. Don't be impressed by the multitude of pages, but look at the content. Have you heard of the universities? Do they have a good reputation? If a doctor is not foreign-born but they chose to go to an off-shore medical school, it is sometimes an indication that they couldn't get into medical school in the United States. Foreign medical graduation alone should not concern you if the doctor has subsequently completed residency and fellowship in the United States and passed their Board examinations. It is important to look at where they did their fellowship training: the most prestigious forensic fellowship programs are either in large cities (such as New York, Miami) or part of a centralized State-run Medical Examiner's Office (such as in New Mexico or Virginia). There is also an excellent forensic training program through the Federally-financed Armed Forced Medical Examiner. But even programs with good reputations can undergo seismic changes if there is a scandal or the Chief retires. You can always Google search the name of the program along with the word "scandal" and see if any news reports come up with the expert's name on in. If you don't do this, opposing counsel definitely will.
3. Do they come recommended?
Few lawyers take the time to ask for references, but if you are finding an expert witness via the internet, or by using an expert witness referral service, it is a good idea to ask the expert for lawyers they have worked with recently. Only another lawyer can tell you if the expert was readily available, reasonably priced, easy to work with and understandable. The lawyer can also tell you whether jurors understood their testimony, since most pathologists don't get feedback directly from the people they are being hired to educate.
4. Are they currently practicing forensic pathology or are they a "professional expert"?
Many forensic pathologists who practice forensic pathology full-time at a County Coroner or Medical Examiner's Office still do some consulting as expert witnesses "on the side". A few work part time or do per-diem work at a County facility. However, there are several forensic pathologists who have retired or left practicing medicine completely and work as legal consultants full-time. The latter group can be problematic if they are out-of-touch with the standards and requirements of current medical practice, or are marketing themselves as "hired guns". Some have been forced to leave civil service because of ethical violations or political scandals. If you are hiring a "professional expert", make sure they are well-qualified, highly recommended, and have their background checked.
5. What is their "bedside manner"?
Many pathologists enter this field of medicine because they are more comfortable with dead bodies than with living people. Unlike academic medicine, where a pathologist has to have some teaching skills to maintain their appointment, forensic pathology is very attractive to introverted practitioners who like to work in solitude. Although all forensic pathologists are expected to testify in legal cases, and many are quite comfortable with it, that doesn't mean they are any good at communicating complex medical issues. So when you are on the phone with the expert ask yourself if they are understandable. Do they use "Med-speak" or do they explain the medical terminology to you as they talk? Are they personable, even charismatic? While some people are not good communicators over the phone but are very eloquent in person, if your first interaction with the expert is unimpressive you may want to schedule a face-to-face meeting to see if you can understand them better. But if you can't understand what the expert is saying - then neither will the jury.
6. What is their area of expertise?
Not every forensic pathologist may have the specialized knowledge you need. A land-locked forensic pathologist from the Midwest may not know much about SCUBA related accidents. A suburban forensic pathologist may autopsy a lot of car accidents, but not a lot of multiple gunshot wound homicides. Try to match the needs of your case to the experience of your expert. If it is a rare or unusual type of death, try to find an expert who has published on the subject. One way is to go to the National Library of Medicine (PubMed) and search the database for articles on the topic. Who is the primary author on most of the publications? Depending on the journal, many articles print the author's contact information in fine print at the beginning or the end of the article; and if the primary author doesn't do consulting, you can always ask them to recommend someone in their field of expertise who does.
7. Do they have experience testifying in cases such as yours?
Most forensic pathologists who practice in a City or County Coroner's office are very good at testifying in criminal cases, since they get a lot of on-the-job experience testifying for the District Attorney's office. But not all of them have frequent contact with Public Defenders or defense attorneys, so if you are a defense attorney, you want to make sure your expert has experience and understands the needs of the defense. Also, few practicing forensic pathologists have experience testifying in civil matters as a routine part of their job. The questions you may need them to answer may be beyond what their experience and training allows, or outside their "comfort zone" as an expert. For example, in an industrial accident, most forensic pathologists will be able to testify to the cause of death and the mechanism of death, but not all have the specialized knowledge regarding interpreting scene investigation to answer complex questions such as: What position was the person in when he was injured? Were the levels of drugs or medications they were taking capable of causing impairment? Make sure the pathologist has experience answering these types of questions before you hire them.
8. What is their expectation of their role?
Some pathologists see their role as very limited: you send them the material they need (typically medical records, police or incident reports, an autopsy report and microscopic slides) and they tell you what they think and write a report. Others will be more accommodating in offering you additional legal support: looking up references and articles, educating you and your staff about the medical issues as they come up, helping you understand the medicine so that you can formulate good questions for deposition or trial, and writing affidavits. If you ask, the individual expert will usually tell you up front what you can expect from them. You should also ask if they understand the different expectations of opinions written to comply with Frye versus Daubert rules of evidence. If an expert works in a Frye State and has never testified in Federal court, they may not be familiar with what Daubert standards are, and you will need to be more assertive in educating him or her about your jurisdiction's particular needs or legal quirks.
9. Do they teach?
This is a pretty good litmus test for communication skills. The most successful expert witnesses understand the complexity of their subject matter, but can find a way to simplify their terminology to make the subject accessible to a lay person. The average juror does not have an advanced educational level and is going to get lost unless the expert can speak to their level. Just because an expert has an academic appointment at a medical school or university does not mean they are good teachers. Just about any big-city Medical Examiner or Coroner's Office has academic affiliations because the local pathology residents are required to do a forensic pathology rotation. Does the practitioner have teaching awards? Do they teach groups other than doctors? If they do, then this is a pretty good indicator that they are comfortable with public speaking and can adjust their language appropriately for the audience.
10. How can you balance your needs with the pathologist's expertise, their proximity, availability and your budget?
Finding the right expert for your needs is a balancing act, and it requires you to be up-front with your expert about costs and expectations. The expert should have plenty of experience with similar cases to give you an estimate of how much time it takes him or her to review materials (for example: an inch of medical records usually takes an hour) or to research and write reports. A local expert with minimal experience may be sufficient if the case is a local one and you are on a tight budget; but you may need an internationally-renowned and published expert from far away if the case is a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit. Obviously, the more famous or further away an expert is, the larger the expenses will be, and it is best to discuss these issues openly with your expert up-front so that there are no misunderstandings or scheduling complications as deadlines approach.
This list was originally published on www.PathologyExpert.com
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I favor the latter. First of all, the form doesn't actually list financial amounts but allows you to check a box with a ballpark, and it would be easy to obscure actual large contributions to an elected official by spreading them out over multiple entities or better yet, doing it the legal and completely undisclosable way: contributing to their election campaign via groups now proliferating since the Supreme Court Citizen's United Decision. Contributions to groups that keep an elected official in power and allow him or her to continue collecting a large salary and control large government contracts are legal and not included on Form 700. Interesting.
But what about the lowly forensic pathologist? If a forensic pathologist actually had a financial interest in the determination of someone's death, for example if their rich uncle died and they were inclined to sign the death certificate as, say an accident, in order to collect on a large accidental death policy. Technically, a large inheritance would be disclosable on Form 700 but nowhere do you have to identify that you signed the death certificate. It would require some digging on the part of the press or public and it would most definitely be picked up by the insurance company. Insurance companies have their own review process for releasing any awards. A pathologist inheriting on a policy where he signed the death certificate would most run into trouble collecting.
Finally, what are the real ethical decisions that challenge forensic pathologists on a daily basis? Are these financial decisions or something much more complex, that cannot be uncovered by any financial disclosure form? Things like: do I tell the grieving family that their infant died from being smothered on the blanket they got as a gift from their great aunt or do I just tell them it's SIDS? Do I tell the DA what the public defender told me when they met with me about their trial strategy or do I keep that to myself? What should I do if the DA demands me I tell her? Or threatens me? What do I do if I am told by my boss or his boss not to testify in a politically-charged, high-profile case?
These are not theoretical questions. These are actual ethical questions that have confronted forensic pathologists I know. So while commissions and government bodies have us filling out financial paperwork we forensic pathologists actually got together and wrote on this subject. You can find it in the NAME Position Paper on Medical Examiner Independence and it is available on line, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Academic Forensic Pathology. A companion paper, published in the same journal, documents several high-profile cases that were a challenge to pathologists' ethics and that prompted the response. In surveying members of the National Association of Medical Examiners, our survey uncovered that nearly a quarter (24%) of those surveyed reported that they are considered prosecution witnesses within their jurisdiction with the expectation that they not cooperate with defense counsel and 42% of the respondents reported that they were expected to divulge details of their conversations with the defense with the prosecution. Approximately a quarter of pathologists (22%) had pressure applied by elected officials or appointees to change cause and manner of death and 11% experienced pressure to change their testimony or withdraw as an expert in a specific case. While pathologists working in Coroner systems were more likely to have the cause of death on the death certificate changed from what was on the autopsy report (43% versus 14% for Medical Examiners), Medical Examiners were more likely to restrict forensic pathologists from private consultation than Coroners (64% versus 0%). The position paper outlines real ways that government can improve on this situation, for example by recommending that forensic pathologists be independent of law enforcement and be available for consultation for both prosecuting and defense attorneys. It also recommends that given the scarcity of forensic pathologists in the United States, they should be free to review, offer opinions on and testify on cases from outside their own jurisdiction.
This paper goes part way in addressing ethical concerns, but it doesn't address issues of respect and professional regard. Most recently a colleague of mine from Oklahoma has been forced to come back under Federal subpoena to testify in a case he did many years ago and the Federal attorneys will not compensate him for his time or work as an expert, insisting that since he did the autopsy years ago under contract he must take vacation time from his current job and miss work in order to do his "civic duty" to testify. If forensic pathologists are not compensated for their work and are treated by the courts in such a way, it is no wonder we are having problems attracting professionals to our ranks.
If those of us that work within the justice system as experts are stymied by breaches of ethics and frustrated by lack of regard and compensation, then what does it say about the quality of the justice system in our country? Comments welcome below.