Legal Memorandum: Qualifying a witness to give expert testimony

Issue: Under the New Mexico Rules of Evidence, when is a witness qualified to testify as an expert?

Area of Law:
Keywords: ; Evidence; Probative Value; Prejudicial
Jurisdiction: New Mexico
Cited Cases: 96 P.3d 291; 349 P.2d 337; 195 P.3d 1244
Cited Statutes: Rule 11-702 NMRA
Date: 11/01/2015

The New Mexico Rules of Evidence control the situations where a witness may testify as an expert.  Rule 11-702 provides

[a] witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.

Rule 11-702 NMRA (2015).  This rule expects the trial court to act as a “gatekeeper” to ensure that an expert’s testimony rests on both a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand so that speculative and unfounded opinions do not reach the jury.  State v. Downey, 145 N.M. 232, 195 P.3d 1244 (2008).  To do this, the court takes a three-step approach.

[Previously,] we discerned three prerequisites in Rule 11-702 for the admission of expert opinion testimony. First, the expert must be qualified. Id. Second, the testimony must "assist the trier of fact." Id. Third, the expert may only testify as to "scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge." Id.


Lee v. Martinez, 136 N.M. 166, 96 P.3d 291 (2004) (citations omitted).

The limit on an expert’s testimony is drawn in the space between science and the law.  Expert testimony will not be permitted which crosses the line into the area generally reserved for the court.

[A]n expert may […]


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