I would like to express my special thanks and gratitude to Mr. Adam Grant, Progam Director for the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent esteemed colleague and friend, for his glowing review of my book: A Deep Dive: An Expert Analysis of Police Procedure, Use of Force and Wrongful Convictions.
In today’s legal world, just about every trial requires an expert witness of one kind or another. In his new book, A Deep Dive, an Expert Analysis of Police Procedure, Use of Force and Wrongful Convictions, veteran LAPD detective and renowned expert Timothy T. Williams details not only what an expert in his own field can provide, but how lawyers can select, work with, and perhaps most importantly, learn from experts in all fields to get the most for their clients.
A leading expert in Police Practices, Use of Force, and Wrongful Convictions, Mr. Williams spent 29 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, from 1974 to 2003. Since then, as a private investigator and expert witness, he has devoted his time to making sure that police departments are held to rigorous standards in all aspects of their work and that justice is done whenever he is on the case.
Most recently, Williams created the Timothy T. Williams Jr. Foundation for Wrongful Convictions. In his new endeavor, Williams will use his lifetime of experience and knowledge of police practices and policies around the use of force to offer support in cases in which innocent people are trying to prove that they were wrongfully convicted and win back their freedom.
Los Angeles Superior Court keeps a list of approved expert witnesses in 54 different disciplines, from Accident Reconstruction to Veterinary Medicine and Animal Abuse. In 2005, Williams convinced Los Angeles County that it should approve a category of expertise centered on Police Practices and Use of Force, and was the first person appointed to the LASC expert panel in that area of expertise.
The Value of Expert Witnesses
At a concise 69 pages, A Deep Dive accomplishes a double mission. First, in what would fit squarely in the category of “things you should have learned in law school,” Williams provides valuable information for any lawyer who lacks experience or knowledge in finding and working with an expert in any field. Several chapters discuss practical aspects of expert work, such as Discovery Issues, Written Reports, and Credibility. In a chapter entitled Don’t Stipulate, Examine and Analyze Everything, Williams describes one of the most damaging mistakes criminal defense attorneys can make: stipulating to aspects of the evidence and of the police investigation that they may not fully understand or know how to analyze. Instead, Williams writes, criminal defense attorneys would be well advised to bring in a qualified expert to comb through police reports and find where the investigation went wrong.
In many cases, identifying inadequacies and investigation bias can mitigate what might have seemed like effective evidence against a defendant. Failing to do so and stipulating to the evidence instead can be downright dangerous. “In my seventeen years in private practice,” Williams writes, “where I have focused on police procedure issues, use of force issues, and wrongful conviction issues, where I have analyzed over 1,200 documented cases from different law enforcement agencies across the country, I have found egregious investigative deficiencies and scientific deficiencies that would have led and have led to wrongful convictions.”
Williams returns time and again in the book to this idea that an expert should be used not only to educate the jury in trial testimony but to educate the lawyer with whom he or she is working, allowing the lawyer to go into trial or a post-conviction hearing with as much ammunition as possible with which to serve his or her client.
Williams follows this idea to its logical conclusion in his chapter on Sub Experts. Here, he details how as a detective, he always consulted experts to explain particularly technical or scientific aspects of a case or investigation to ensure that he understood every aspect of the case as thoroughly as possible. That was the only way he could be sure that the scientific evidence supported his theory of the case. Williams brought that discipline to his work as an expert. What he wants lawyers to understand is that consulting with one expert is not always the end of the inquiry. Sometimes an important aspect of one expert’s job is to identify areas where another expert is needed to fully educate the attorney. This unfailingly leads to greater understanding of the science involved in the case, but sometimes it mines gold when it leads to the discovery that the investigating detective on the case did not understand what the science really showed. In these cases, instead of stipulating to the evidence, a lawyer can often devalue and equalize it, but only if he or she truly understands it. “As a police procedure expert, I could not do what I do without bringing in subject matter experts in specific scientific areas,” writes Williams. “I call this completed analysis of the case.”
Police Practices and Use of Force in Today’s World
Late in the book Williams truly takes a “deep dive,” switching from a general primer on the practice of expert witnesses to explore this brief volume’s second mission: a thorough look at the world of expert testimony in Police Practices and Use of Force. In a chapter entitled An Informed Approach to Use of Force and the Bench, Williams takes us through some of the insights he has gained through his vast experience as an officer and detective with the Los Angeles Police Department to provide valuable information on police Use of Force and how he testifies about it in court. Using this subject that he knows so well, Williams shows how crucial it is for expert witnesses to testify with pinpoint accuracy and attention to exacting detail. As an example, Williams discusses Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), a required training program for peace officers and other police personnel that is mandated by many states across the country, and the way many expert witnesses misinterpret and mischaracterize it in their testimony. He colors the discussion with examples from trials in which he has testified on the subject. Importantly, he gives examples of insightful and accurate testimony he has provided on the subject in court and its effect on the trial in which he provided it.
Rounding out the chapter, Williams includes an analysis of a 1995 article by the Department of Justice, entitled “Post-Asphyxia Sudden Death,” which details the ease in which death can result from a police officer applying extreme weight to the back of a prone suspect. Reading this chapter and the analysis through which Williams shows how to avoid this scenario, one cannot help but think of the death of George Floyd and the national conversation and widespread demonstrations it sparked. This seems bizarrely prescient, considering the book was written before the summer of 2020 and George Floyd’s untimely and tragic death, until one considers the point Williams is making: This type of incident did not start with George Floyd and will not end with George Floyd. It is all too common, and all too avoidable in police work. And when it occurs, there must be accountability.
Wrongful Convictions and the Use of Experts
Wrongful Convictions are endemic in American society. The National Registry of Exonerations lists 2,706 exonerations of wrongfully convicted people in America since 1989. The largest group of those, it will come as no surprise, are African Americans, at 1,336, or just under 50 percent. The causes of these 2,706 wrongful convictions are varied, but 55 percent of them involved official misconduct (meaning misconduct on the part of police, prosecutors or other state actors), and the other major causes, including mistaken eyewitness identification, perjury or false accusation, false confession, and false or misleading forensic evidence, all very often involve official misconduct as well.
Williams has spent a lot of his career as both an investigator and an expert working to correct and reverse wrongful convictions. So too, he devotes a considerable amount of space to the role of police misconduct in wrongful convictions, and how a good expert in Police Practices and Use of Force can identify them for lawyers or train lawyers to see them for themselves.
A Perspective on Criminal Justice
Finally, in the book’s coda, a chapter entitled My Criminal Justice Perspective, Williams gives his long-acquired views on where the justice system has gone in the decades he has spent inside it; the inequities in policing when it comes to class and race; the resistance from within the system when it comes to righting its own wrongs; the erosion of civility even in the courtroom. Williams’ perspective comes from a rare vantage point; the view of a decades-long serving African American police officer turned Police Practices and Use of Force expert. It is a perspective that, now more than ever, should be heard and considered.
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