DUI • Expert Testimony • Field Sobriety Tests • Hearsay

Commonwealth v. Braun, PICS Case No. 14-0031 (C.P. Lycoming Jan. 3, 2014) Gray, J. (11 pages).

Defendant was charged with DUI and related offenses. Defendant offered its expert witness, Dr. Valentine, to testify that defendant’s medical condition made her an unsuitable candidate for field sobriety testing due to knee and ankle injuries. Dr. Valentine, a pharmacologist, toxicologist and analytical chemist who passed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) DUI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Course, authored an expert report one week after the crime allegedly occurred.

The commonwealth moved in limine to preclude such testimony. It argued that the expert was not a medical doctor, with no training or experience in orthopedics; therefore, he no reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge in orthopedics or general medicine and was not sufficiently qualified to render testimony about the defendant’s medical conditions. Moreover, the commonwealth argued that the expert could rely upon the defendant’s medical records or any diagnosis in those records to testify about the defendant’s medical conditions because such testimony would be based upon hearsay.

The court of common pleas granted the motion in part.

The test to be applied when qualifying an expert witness is whether the witness has any reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation. A witness who has such pretension may testify and the weight to be accorded such testimony is for the trier of fact to determine. The defense expert herein did not have specialized knowledge with respect to treating or diagnosing medical conditions, including orthopedics.

However, since the expert passed the NHTSA DUI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Course, he possessed reasonable pretension to specialized knowledge with respect to DUI detection and standardized field sobriety testing. Therefore, assuming the appropriate foundation is provided, the expert could testify about the limitations of sobriety testing for individuals who have suffered from a knee or ankle injury or symptoms claimed by the defendant.

As the commonwealth asserts, the expert is precluded from testifying that the defendant suffers from a diagnosis based upon medical records. Hospital records are admissible only to show the fact of hospitalization, treatment prescribed and symptoms given. A physician’s diagnosis is an opinion which requires the availability of testimony by the physician, subject to cross examination. However, the defense expert herein may testify to the extent the testimony relies upon “treatment prescribed and symptoms given.”