Should an Unlicensed Psychologist Testify on Autism?

The plaintiffs in a recent education case moved to exclude Defendant’s testimony of an unlicensed psychologist as an expert on autism. The School District argued that she was an unlicensed and subject to possible disciplinary action by the California Board of Psychology; therefore, she lacked the credentials to testify as an expert witness. Further, Defendant School District contended that her testimony would constitute the commission of a misdemeanor offense.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller wrote that the admissibility of expert testimony is a question within the trial court’s discretion. The court plays a “gatekeeping” role to ensure all expert testimony, scientific or otherwise, is both relevant and reliable. As part of this role, the court must evaluate a witness’s “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” to determine if she qualifies as an expert. Rule 702 “contemplates a broad conception of expert qualifications . . . and [is] intended to embrace more than a narrow definition of qualified expert,” she explained, citing a Ninth Circuit case.

Judge Mueller explained that, although it’s a factor to be considered, licensure in the discipline or specialty that’s in the subject of expert opinion isn’t a requirement under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

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