Overcoming Daubert’s Shortcomings in Criminal Trials: Making the Error Rate the Primary Factor in Daubert’s Validity Inquiry
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its progeny provide the federal standard for the admissibility of all expert evidence, including forensic evidence, that is proffered in criminal trials. The standard measures the validity of expert evidence through a flexible four-factor inquiry. Unfortunately, in the criminal context, Daubert fails to promote the goals of trial outcome accuracy and consistency, resulting in tragically unfair outcomes for criminal defendants. This Note proposes a doctrinal tweak that shifts the costs of admitting forensic evidence to the prosecution and promotes criminal justice goals. First, there should be a high presumption against the admission of forensic evidence that must be rebutted with a clear and convincing showing of its validity. Second, the Daubert validity inquiry needs to be reformulated so that the forensic methodology’s “error rate” factor is the primary (and if possible, only) factor the court considers. Third, the error rate should be defined as the lab-specific error rate. The Note ends by considering further possible ways to specify the definition of “error rate” to better promote criminal justice goals.