The role of expert witnesses in criminal prosecution remain pivotal, to the fair dispensation of justice. The testimony of an expert might actually be the linchpin, in tilting the decision to convict or acquit an accused person. The real question therefore is, when is an expert not an expert? How much weight, or probative value, should a judge and/or jury place on the expert testimony of an ‘acclaimed expert’?
We may never be able to know the number of cases or accused persons that have been languishing in prison; who’s conviction(s) were solely reliant on expert testimony that were never really challenged. Instances like these, remain fertile grounds for defense counsel to truly engage in the ‘battle of the experts’. The quality of legal representation, the high cost of litigation, and of securing the right experts poses challenges for accused persons and counsel. Rev. Gordon MacRae’s conviction, it seems, appears to harbor some of those lingering doubts. For a full analysis of the peculiar facts of his case, read article entitled: ‘How Psychotherapists helped send an innocent priest to prison’
The case dwells on the professional and care responsibilities of persons placed in a position of trust; how those responsibilities are discharged; the vulnerability of the care-giver and the carer, especially when it bothers on religion and faith. All of these however must be read against the avalanche of cases involving priest and the laity in the catholic church. Still, the issues in the Rev. Gordon MacRae case, are troubling enough to raise legal and procedural concerns. For one, the psychotherapist’s professional conduct and expertise remain open-ended to further probing questions. For a conviction to be safe, ‘we must clear all shred of doubts’; that is why the burden is ‘primarily’ placed on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is set at a very high bar.