Qualified Expert Witness Opinion from the Alaska Supreme Court

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The question of qualified expert witness (QEW) has confounded the Alaska Court for years, and unfortunately the regulations and guidelines didn’t provide quite as much clarification as they needed. That said, this decision seems to chart a new course for the Alaska Supreme Court:

As explained further below, the superior court’s interpretation of Oliver N. was mistaken. An expert on tribal cultural practices need not testify about the causal connection between the parent’s conduct and serious damage to the child so long as there is testimony by an additional expert qualified to testify about the causal connection.

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In both cases there is reason to believe cultural assumptions informed the evidence presented to some degree. Had the cultural experts had a chance to review the record — particularly the other expert testimony — they may have been able to respond to and contextualize it. For instance, Dr. Cranor emphasized attachment theory and the economic situation of the families in both cases — areas that may implicate cultural mores or biases. If the cultural experts were aware of this testimony, they could haven addressed attachment theory, economic interdependence, and housing practices in the context of prevailing tribal standards.