The Role of a Toxicologist
Toxicology co-counsel Can Make or Break Your Case
TV shows such as Law and Order or Suits often have lawyers win cases simply using their skills alone, however in actual courtrooms highly skilled professionals acting as expert witnesses or legal co-counsel usually help make or break a case. For example, cases like DUIs that require the analysis of chemical substances often require forensic toxicologists to help advise lawyers on how to proceed with their case. But what does a toxicologist actually do, and how does toxicology co-counsel help win cases?
What Is the Difference Between Forensic and Normal Toxicologists?
Essentially, forensic toxicologists do the same thing that toxicologists who aren’t involved in the legal system – they analyze chemical substances in the body. However, forensic toxicology also involves aspects of pathology, chemistry, and even biochemistry, as all of these sciences are useful in determining how substances are metabolized. While normal toxicologists will analyze how organisms react to a substance of their choosing, forensic toxicologists determine how “substances are absorbed, distributed or eliminated in the body.”1 In legal cases when forensic toxicologists are consulted it is often in relation to the use and consumption of illegal drinks, prescription medication or alcohol.
What Is Legal Co-counsel?
Generally, the main lawyer or attorney working on a legal case is referred to as counsel. Co-counsel, on the other hand, can either refer to an assisting lawyer who helps the lead attorney during a case, or academic and highly qualified experts that are not lawyers, but are able to use their experience and knowledge to advise counsel. In some cases, where highly qualified people have courtroom experience, they may be called on to act as expert witnesses, who use their skill set and understanding of a specific subject to help a judge and jury understand the specifics of a case. Expert witnesses will then use their understanding of facts to form an objective opinion and report back to counsel or a court.
Forensic Toxicologists as Co-counsels
When a case involves the need to analyze how a person has reacted or metabolized specific chemicals or substances, a forensic toxicologist may be called in to advise counsel. This toxicologist will review the reports made by crime scene investigators and criminal lab technicians, and report back to counsel. When provided with samples, forensic toxicologists will be able to do their own tests and determine if any chemicals, poisons or drugs were present in whoever is being prosecuted. Moreover, they use any crime scene evidence to properly analyze and interpret specific results. This includes the context of the crime scene as well as the physical symptoms of the person counsel is representing. Certain chemicals or compounds may produce false positives, so forensic toxicologists acting as co-counsels must be properly skilled and knowledgeable of the problems surrounding certain types of forensic tests, such as hair follicle or urine tests.
However, although forensic toxicologists act as co-counsels to assist counsel in specific cases, they must remain impartial to the results of said case. All forensic toxicologists do is analyze data and report back to counsel, they cannot be biased in favor of any specific result. If the leading lawyer or attorney feels that properly explaining these results in a courtroom will benefit their case, forensic toxicologists may be called on to act as expert witnesses and provide fact-based opinions.