What Is the Frye Standard?

Donn Saylor

The Frye standard is a test conducted by courts to decide on the admissibility of scientific evidence into a trial or hearing. Also known as a general acceptance test, the Frye standard revolves around the idea that evidence is only allowable when the scientific method behind the evidence is widely established and regarded as trustworthy within scientific sectors. Though some states still utilize this standard, it has commonly been replaced by the Daubert standard, a more elaborate, multi-point system for determining the admissibility of scientific evidence.

The Frye standard can be applied to testimony by an expert witness.
The Frye standard can be applied to testimony by an expert witness.

In 1923, the case of Frye versus the United States generated much discussion over the acceptability of polygraph test results as scientific evidence. The court found that the nature of polygraph testing was too variable and unreliable and was not accepted as entirely dependable within the scientific community. This widespread acceptance, the court continued, must be firmly in place before polygraph tests could be legally entered into the court system as scientific proof. It was this landmark case that gave the Frye standard admissibility test its name and basis.

The Frye standard generated a lot of discussion over polygraph tests.
The Frye standard generated a lot of discussion over polygraph tests.

Under the Frye standard of evidence law, scientific evidence entered into a court case must be regarded as technically sound by the majority of experts in the field. The Frye test doesn't just apply to physical evidence, however. It can also be applied to expert testimony, in which professionals in a certain scientific field explain and support the scientific methods behind the submitted evidence. In a courtroom setting, the expert is asked to defend the procedure in question. If his or her credentials are challenged, as is common in cross-examination, or if his or her explanations are not satisfactory, the court could conceivably deem the expert's testimony inadmissible.

The Frye standard is applied whenever new or questionable scientific procedures are introduced into evidence. There are many scientific processes that are commonly accepted in the court system, such as fingerprinting and DNA evidence. But with the rapid advancement of technology, newer and more revolutionary practices are coming into play, necessitating the intervention of the Frye test.

As sciences advances, the efficacy of the Frye standard has been questioned by many. Critics argue that just because a science is new does not make it fallible. This is especially true in cases involving forensics, a field of scientific study that is constantly growing and establishing more and more scientific clout in the litigation of violent crimes.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- Frye is too strict and the crime rate is too high. The courts need to have a test that keeps up with current technology. That's not saying we need tests that aren't accurate, but there should be a standard that more efficiently evaluates scientific methods.


People may argue that the Frye standard is out of date, but I like it. We should make absolutely certain that scientific evidence is widely considered valid before it is allowed into evidence.

Let's take a look at criminal law, for example. The polygraph test was ruled out because it was too uncertain. Justice is not done if a defendant is allowed to be prejudiced by science that may or may not be valid.

Does that mean some guilty people will go free? Maybe, but it is better for 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to go to jail because of a flawed test.

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