Social Workers as Expert Witnesses is part of a series of General Counsel Law Notes written with the support of the NASW Legal Defense Fund.
Social workers are frequently called to testify as experts in courts of law on a variety of subjects. Courts rely on information offered in evidence as the basis for decisions rendered, and oral testimony by witnesses is often the major source of evidence provided at a trial. Witnesses who testify as experts play a critical role in interpreting data, explaining complex material, and drawing informed inferences on the basis of their training and experience.
In areas such as child abuse and capital punishment sentencing, the testimony of a social worker as an expert witness is often critical. This law note discusses the role of social workers as expert witnesses and reviews case law confirming their role as experts in a variety of legal settings. Topics covered include the following:
- Who can be an expert witness
- Qualifying as an expert
- What expert witnesses can testify to
- Specific roles social workers play as expert witnesses
- How social workers are retained to testify as experts
- Specific types of cases in which social workers may serve as experts (for example, child welfare, rape, posttraumatic stress disorder, sexual harassment).
Other areas of concern to social workers testifying as experts and certain practical considerations are also covered, and the discussion is supplemented by appendixes encompassing a review of the federal rules of evidence; a sample letter of engagement; an annotated bibliography of cases; and the full text of an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the important case of Jaffee v. Redmond (1995), which established psychotherapist–patient privilege in the federal rules of evidence.
Answering specific legal issues in particular jurisdictions often requires review of layers of applicable local, state, or federal laws that apply to a case. Although this law note is not intended to be a substitute for legal consultation regarding specific issues that affect social workers’ expert testimony in a particular case, many examples are discussed, and social workers who do testify, or may be called to testify, as experts will want to have this volume ready to hand.
The NASW General Counsel Law Note series provides information to social workers about legal topics of concern to the social work profession. The Law Notes are developed with the support and financial assistance of the NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF). Contents vary by title, but generally include legal information, civil procedure, contracts, legal methods, and glossaries. Checklists, timetables, case law, and other resources help social workers understand and exercise their legal rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of their clients.