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Psychol Crime Law. 2017;23(6):575-600. doi: 10.1080/1068316X.2017.1284218. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

Educator of the Court: The Role of the Expert Witness in Cases Involving Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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1
University of Pennsylvania, Department of Criminology.

Abstract

The role of the expert witness in legal contexts is to educate fact finders of the court who may have no background in the expert's area. This role can be especially difficult for those who assist in cases involving individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As expert assistance on ASD is crucial to ensuring just outcomes for individuals diagnosed with ASD, knowledge on how expert witnesses perceive and approach their roles, and what factors may influence these perceptions, is essential. This qualitative research utilizes semi-structured interviews with a sample of expert witnesses in cases involving ASD, analyzed using a grounded-theory constant comparative analytic approach. Data reveal that experts appear to view their roles in court as reconstructionists, educators, myth-dispellers, and most of all, communicators, actively using their testimony to fill these roles in cases. These results also allow for the development of a model that illustrates two areas that coalesce to affect how experts view their roles in court: (1) personal experiences of experts in cases in which they have been involved; and (2) influences outside experts' personal experiences, such as their general opinions or observations regarding ASD and its relationship to the criminal justice system.

KEYWORDS:

ASD; autism; court; expert witness; judgments; mental health

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