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71 Oklahoma Law Review 759 (2019)


Twenty-five years ago, the Supreme Court decided one of the most important cases concerning the use of science in courtrooms. In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals , the Court addressed widespread concerns that courts were admitting unreliable scientific evidence. In addition, lower courts lacked clarity on the status of the previous landmark case for courtroom science, Frye v. United States. In the years leading up to the Daubert decision, policy-makers and legal observers sounded the alarm about the rise in the use of "junk science" by so-called expert witnesses. Some critics went so far as to suggest that American businesses and the viability of the court system itself were at stake.

Despite the likely exaggeration of such claims, the law of the admissibility of expert testimony certainly needed reform by the time of Daubert. As the Court itself acknowledged, there was a circuit split on the appropriate standard for courts to apply. Lower courts had been applying inconsistent criteria and, for the most part, had ignored the nearly twenty year-old codified rule of evidence on the subject. In addition, after a century of the growth of science in the courtroom, expert witnesses had become a prominent feature of the legal system, requiring courts to respond to more and more questions concerning the admissibility of their testimony.

Part I of this Article will address the history of expert witness admission in the modem legal era and the important role of Frye. Part II of this Article will explore what led to Daubert and the Court's decision. Part III of this Article will distill the meaning of Daubert and subsequent Supreme Court cases and examine the many studies that have attempted to measure Daubert's impact on the court system. Part IV will discuss Daubert's limited impact on the criminal justice system, highlighting a few profoundly disturbing examples of unreliable forensic science that currently plague criminal courts. Part V will discuss potential options for improving how courts admit expert witness testimony.

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