New book addresses courtroom challenges

posted Jan 25, 2019

You’re defending your first murder case. A 30-year crime lab veteran is on the stand outlining the complex crime scene evidence on which the prosecution’s case depends: ballistics, bloodstain pattern analysis, polymerase chain reaction testing, DNA sequencing. You need to cross and chip away at the weaknesses to stay in the game.

Could you make the sale?

In his latest book, “Law, Science and Experts: Case Problems and Strategies,” University of Washington Professor from Practice William S. Bailey addresses challenges young lawyers often face when going toe-to-toe with seasoned scientific experts in the courtroom.

While litigating a case is complicated enough, he said, turning complicated forensics concepts into a coherent narrative can be an uphill climb. This in turn can twist a thorough and well-commanded case into a muddled jumble of evidence and misaligned concepts.

"How do you train students so they’re not intimidated?” Bailey said. “This is not hypothetical: It’s about picking the skills that are most needed so students can say, ‘Yes, I can put a DNA expert on the stand.’”

For Bailey, the art of storytelling is just as important to litigation as the individual points and exhibits themselves. He delves into the concept of visual storytelling in previous works, including “Show the Story: The Power of Visual Advocacy” that he wrote with his brother, Robert W. Bailey, and he puts tremendous emphasis on the concept when educating students.

“Now, lawyers have to be like film directors in a lot of ways,” Bailey said. “It’s no longer enough to think well about the law itself: You have to think how to make it vivid and persuasive.”

In his latest book, Bailey homes in specifically on areas within forensic testimony in which young litigators — who are not generally masters of such specific fields — can extract an advantage.

Compounding the issue, however, is the fact that the profusion of new data points through technology, rapid evolutions within the digital space and tools and methodologies for evidence analysis are changing so quickly that it is difficult for education to remain in lockstep.

For example, there was a time in which law enforcement had to rely on the firsthand accounts of eye witnesses for the bulk of their evidence. Today, with smartphones and surveillance cameras blanketing a given area at any time, events are often captured from myriad angles. And once detectives and analysts are on the scene, technicians can dig deeper into a crime’s story than ever before, like parsing out a single assailant’s DNA from a murder weapon handled by multiple hands or rebuilding a scene with just a couple drops of blood.

“The game has totally changed,” Bailey said. “By the time you write a book about it, it’s time for a new edition.

“We have to change along with everyone else.”

What hasn’t changed, however, is the importance of connecting on a human level with those to whom you are selling your point: The art of showing, not telling; the importance of a complete story, not just evidence pieced together for jurors to make sense of on their own.

That skill is often the difference between winning and losing a case and remains a core focus of Bailey’s classroom teaching, something that goes hand in hand with ongoing scholarship work.

“I’m happy to be in a school where classroom teaching is as valued as it is here,” he said.

Find “Law, Forensics and Experts: Case Problems and Solutions” on Amazon and visit Bailey’s faculty page to read more about previous publications.