Courts of law rely on information offered in evidence as the basis for decisions rendered. Evidence comes in many forms, including photographs, recordings, devices, forensic evidence, documents, and individual testimony. Oral testimony by witnesses is, however often the major source of evidence at a trial. Witnesses who testify as experts in legal proceedings play an important role in interpreting data, explaining complex material, and drawing knowledgeable inferences based on their training and experience. Social workers are called to testify as expert witnesses on a variety of subjects. In some areas, such as capital punishment sentencing or child abuse, the testimony of the social worker as an expert witness is often critical to a determination.
This law note discusses the role of social workers as expert witnesses and reviews case law confirming their role as experts in a variety of legal settings. Answers to specific legal issues in a particular jurisdiction often require reviewing the layers of applicable local, slate, and federal laws that may apply to a case. Although many examples are discussed, this law note is not intended to be a substitute for legal consultation regarding specific issues that affect social workers’ expert testimony in a particular case.