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The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct
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Testimony of Expert Witness Excluded

by David Reutter

A Louisiana federal district court excluded the expert testimony of Dr. David Thomas in a class action brought by Louisiana prisoners who alleged substandard medical care.

Joseph Lewis, Jr. sued the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights and the American Disabilities Act and sought declaratory and injunctive relief.

The expert testimony of Dr. David Thomas was proffered as a defense to the plaintiff's allegations Dr. Thomas stated that he went to Angola where he spent a day interviewing staff and spoke to "over 100 inmates." Dr. Thomas stated that he personally reviewed the medical records of the named plaintiffs and other prisoners, the complaints and depositions of the litigation, and policies and procedures of Angola's medical care.

Dr. Thomas avowed that he would testify to the following expert opinions: 1) that incarceration facilities were primarily medical care; 2) it is not unusual for medical care of prisoners to be delayed or truncated due to security concerns; 3) Angola medical care is consistent with care in other facilities; 4) Each plaintiff's care needs to be evaluated to see if there is a nexus to warrant a complaint as a class, and that he would find no such nexus; and 5) These cases should be handled by a medical director and not a judicial process.

This testimony was presented at a deposition hearing of Dr. Thomas. Federal Rule of Evidence, Rule 702 requires a preliminary assessment to determine whether the expert testimony is both reliable and relevant. Moreover, according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 26, it is required that the expert opinions are supported by: 1) the basis and reason for them; 2) the facts and data considered; and 3) any exhibits to be used in testimony.

When cross-examined. Dr. Thomas could not report specific names of prisoners interviewed or policies and procedures relied upon to support his conclusions. He could not tell how or why he had reached his particular results. Due to this, the plaintiffs argued that it would not be possible to determine if the testimony was based on sufficient facts or data. They stated that the court's gatekeeping function would be thwarted because they could not determine if there was an adequate fit between the data and the expert's opinion.

Defendants countered that there was little chance that the fact-finder could be misled and that arguments against the sources of expert testimonies goes to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility, a consideration left for the jury.

As for Dr. Thomas' first two opinions, the court held that the defendant's reasonings were unpersuasive and did not address the gravamen of the plaintiff's arguments. Dr. Thomas' report disclosed utterly no verifiable or testable basis for conclusion. As to the last three opinions, the court held that Dr. Thomas was not an expert and could not proffer opinion on security matters or judicial process.

The motion to exclude testimony of Dr. Thomas was granted.

See: Joseph Lewis, Jr., et. al. v. Burl Cain, et. al., USDC, M.D. Louisiana, Case No. 15-318-SDD-R6B.

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