State Supreme Courts require a minimum threshold of reliability and acceptance in the scientific community for all medical and similar evidence to be admitted at trial. In Florida and some other states, the courts adhere to what is known as the Frye standard, whereas in most states and in Federal Courts, it is the so-called Daubert standard. The jurisdiction of the present case is Hillsborough County (Tampa), Florida. Forensic pathologists seldom, if ever, are requested to participate in such hearings, unlike their toxicological and basic science colleagues who are more involved in research methodology and technical procedures.
The burden is on the proponent of the evidence to prove the general acceptance of both the underlying scientific principle of the test and procedures used to apply that principle to the facts of the case at hand. The trial judge has the sole discretion to determine this question and general acceptance must be established by a preponderance of the evidence.
The authors describe in detail a hearing in a case in which they were all involved. One author (WQS) had researched and documented the original scientific methodology in the literature. The situation involved a car and tractor trailer crash with the two occupants of the car dying of multiple trauma, whereas the truck driver was not injured. Autopsy of the auto driver revealed multiple injuries with exsanguination, and only vitreous humor and liver tissue, but not blood, were tested for ethyl alcohol. The estate of the driver of the automobile brought suit against the owner of the trucking company for wrongful death. The plaintiff requested a Frye hearing to question the reliability of testing other body specimens to translate to probable blood alcohol level. The testimony, submitted documents, and eventual decision by the judge are discussed.