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Miami Bankruptcy & Criminal Attorney / Blog / Criminal Defense / How Reliable Is Expert Testimony Related Deaths In Custody?

How Reliable Is Expert Testimony Related Deaths In Custody?


It’s far from uncommon for police to deploy tasers in an attempt to mollify suspects.  Supposedly, it is short of lethal force, and  to be used with non-compliant individuals. Even so, there are over 500 recorded deaths related to the use of Tasers in this country in the last decade or so. Grieving families are left with little recourse outside of a court challenge, leaving the courts to determine whether the device was properly used and whether it was the primary cause of death. Oftentimes juries rely on expert testimony provided by the defense.  But can such testimony be trusted as accurate?

Case in Point

One renowned “expert” on police techniques that lead to harm and death, Dr. Gary Vilke, is frequently called to present opinions that favor police.  He is known to proclaim that tasers, neck holds, and face down restraints do not cause the deaths of individuals who suffer these kinds of police interactions and wind up dead.  In one particular case, the medical examiner found that the cause of death was homicide by asphyxiation after a man who’d been held face down on the ground and eventually secured on a spinal board with an officer sitting on the board died. Dr Vilke argued in direct contradiction of the ME’s findings, claiming the victim died due to heart disease, meth use, and the effort of his battle against his restraints.

Seems to be a Pattern…

A quarter million pages of court documents and hundreds of research projects on the topic of police “experts” reveal a disturbing pattern.  It seems there is a small group of police “experts”— doctors, lawyers, scientists, and so forth—who reliably exonerate officers with testimony that blames civilian deaths on anything but the officers’ actions.

“Expert” Influence

Prosecutors, along with grief-stricken family members, often consider testimony from these individuals to be slanted.  One troubling issue is the fact that many of these authorities who enter seemingly biased opinions favoring police have strong connections to the law-enforcement community.  Some train officers, while others participate in policy development, Some are even allied with the company that makes Taser. This group of specialists make big bucks for their testimony, charging as much as $500 an hour and accruing millions.  The irony of it all is that we, the taxpayers, fund them through training, policy development, and, of course, we pay the legal bills of officers who are accused of wrongdoing.

A Significant Problem

Police misbehavior has been garrisoned by such experts more than 100 times in the past decade and a half, primarily in civil suits brought by families of the dead victims. Most cases were settled out of court.  Of those that actually went to trial, over 50 percent had outcomes that favored the police.  Alarmingly, the influence of this group is mounting. These days such individuals assist in training medical examiners, in writing policies that reduce legal liability for Law enforcement, and in conducting research that reaches conclusions demonstrating that, surprisingly, very few police interactions might actually lead to death.  Without question, the number of dead suggests otherwise.

Getting to the Truth

At The Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, we know that the facts and justice matter.  Our Miami criminal attorneys work to uncover bias as we represent those accused of crimes, especially if they wind up injured or dead. For a confidential consultation, contact our office today.



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