Procedure and Facts
The two plaintiffs, who were minors, and their parents, commenced liability proceedings against the defendant, which was a pharmaceutical company. The plaintiffs were born with limb defects which they contended was not natural but rather by their mother’s use of Benedictin, a drug manufactured by the defendants. The claim was lodged at the Ninth Circuit court. The arguments from the opposing parties in the case elucidated differing opinions as to the more just, appropriate and reliable criteria for the admissibility of scientific evidence available. There existed an earlier common law rule, the Frye rule, which held scientific evidence must be generally accepted and peer reviewed, to be admissible. On the other hand, the Federal Rules of Evidence provided for a more relaxed and allowed for admittance of scientific evidence if it was relevant or helpful. The Fyre rule was upheld by the Ninth Circuit court. In effect, the evidence produced by the plaintiff ruled inadmissible. They Appealed to the Supreme Court (Legal Information Institute, 2013).
This case elicited a lot of debate within the legal and scientific community. A number of top scientists, scholars and historians filed briefs at the Supreme Court in support of one of the two views as amicus curiae. The appellant supporter’s recommended the relevancy standard. They believed it was more helpful to the trier of facts in ascertaining the truth. The defendants, led by Bloembergen argued that there are fundamental differences between science and law, and the lab and the court. Thus a more stringent standard of admissibility was required as a court ruling is intended to be immutable and final while that of the lab is not (Legal Information Institute, 2013).
Whether the standard for admissibility of scientific evidence was to be allowed using the Fyre rule or the Federal Rules of Evidence. Whether the evidence elucidated by the plaintiff was admissible.
Expert (scientific) evidence is admissible, for the purposes of litigation, when it is shown to have been arrived at using recognized and accepted scientific procedures and methods.
It is a conundrum for the courts to determine, with certainty, which scientific theory can reveal the truth of the matter. Therefore, it is not only vital, but advisable that law and science should work closely to ensure justice if served. Justice Blackmum, who delivered the unanimous ruling against the defendants, recommended a cautionary approach to ensure reliability. Reliability was to be canvased with regards to validity of the methods rather than a ‘generally acceptable’ approach. Thus methods used should be testable. Peer-review is one of the many indicators. The judge further emphasized and comprehensively canvased the arguments set forth by the defendants with regards to the association between science and law. He argued that law and science should adopt a more cooperative and particularized understanding of the dispute in court, rather than seek to come up with new developments during the hearings.
However, while concurring with the decision of the majority CJ Rehnquist and Justice JP Stevens shied away from examining the relationship between science and law. They argued that the briefs submitted to them on the subject were beyond the scope of judges. This minority group thus ignored the more fundamental issues and failed to provide the philosophical justifications for their ruling (Legal Information Institute, 2013).
Legal Information Institute. (2013). Legal Information Institute. Retrieved September 09, 2013, from www.law.cornell.edu: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/92-102.ZS.html