The Frye Case

Frye v. United States (54 App. D.C. 46, 47, 293 F. 1013, 1014 [1923]) is a landmark decision that involved the general acceptance of the admissibility of scientific evidence. This was a criminal case that entailed the results of a systolic blood pressure test, commonly known as a polygraph, in a murder trial. At the time, the test was seen as a novel technique, and the court decided that the evidence was not admissible based on the fact that it was not generally accepted by the relevant scientific community. The evidence presented, therefore, was not generally accepted and not admitted. It was then determined that as scientific evidence advances from experimental to demonstrable, the principles behind the science receive general acceptance from the professional community or field before considered admissible by the courts. This standard was established and became known as the Frye test of general acceptance. The following statement from Frye v. United States (1923) has become known as the Frye rule or test of general acceptance:

Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrable stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone, the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and although courts will go a long way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well-recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.

The Frye rule is the expert’s opinion based on what is generally accepted by the scientific community. The specifics are unclear, but time has shown that the primary criterion is that the science has been published in a peer-reviewed journal—although exceptions do exist. A potential problem for scientists is the law dictating what is regarded as scientific evidence. Lawyers and judges dictate what constitutes scientific evidence (Bowen, 2006). The Frye rule is only one example of the admissibility of scientific evidence. Currently, more U.S. states are adhering to the Daubert standards than the Frye rule (see Figure 6.1).

Expert evidence standards by state

Figure 6.1 Expert evidence standards by state

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