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False, Outdated Testimony From Expert Witnesses Could Trigger New Trial Under Bill

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – False or outdated testimony from an expert witness could be enough to overturn a conviction and trigger a new trial, under a bill approved by the state Senate on Thursday that counters a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

SB1058, by Democratic Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, responds to a 2012 decision by the high court that denied a new trial for a man who said he had been convicted in part because of false testimony from an expert witness.

In the 4-3 decision, the justices ruled that expert testimony is merely an opinion and thus cannot be considered true or false. As such, the justices said it cannot be grounds for an appeal.

Leno’s bill would let judges reconsider the evidence if the expert subsequently repudiated his or her testimony, or if that testimony was later undermined by scientific research or technological advances.

“Please join me in righting this wrong,” Leno urged his colleagues.

The Senate approved the bill 24-9, sending it to the Assembly.

While many Republicans voted against the bill, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, joined Leno in support after he was assured that experts could not be sued if they testified in good faith but later discovered that technology had evolved to prove them wrong.

“We need to do our best to make sure those (wrongfully convicted) individuals are freed as quickly as possible,” Anderson said.

The measure is supported by the California Innocence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and defense attorneys.

It is opposed by the California District Attorneys Association, which argued that existing rules already allow for the innocent to prove they should not have been convicted.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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