Deep Background

Check your experts’ backgrounds (and your opponents’)

It was easy for a Tampa consultant to become an expert witness testifying in criminal trials, even though he lacked most of the professional credentials he claimed to have. Defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges failed for years to spot discrepancies in his CV.

In September 2016, Chester Kwitowski was charged with five counts of perjury for allegedly misleading court officials in criminal trials when he testified for the defense in cases charging people with sexual battery on a minor or possession of child pornography, Polk County (Florida) court documents show. Authorities said he perjured himself when he claimed to have a master’s degree in computer science and engineering, a top-secret security clearance, and multiple computer forensics certifications from various software companies. He pled not guilty to the charges.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted Jack Townley, president of the Florida chapter of the Forensic Expert Witness Association: “Once you can prove you’ve been accepted as a witness in court and have verifiable testimony as an expert, an attorney is less likely” to investigate the witness’ background, he said. “Every hour an attorney spends vetting somebody costs their client,” Townley added. Websites listing court experts generally check that a person has had previous experience testifying in court, but don’t check educational or professional qualifications, he said.

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