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From analysis to testimony: The indispensable impact of forensic accountants in court

Article
06.13.2024

By Scott Koman, CPA, CVA, CFE, MAFF and Rachel Bosworth, CFE

Forensic accounting experts play a critical role in litigation, combining their extensive knowledge in finance and accounting with investigative skills to serve as crucial witnesses.

Qualified through significant experience, these experts bring an advanced understanding of financial intricacies to the courtroom, simplifying complex issues and presenting evidence-supported opinions.

The expert witness

Forensic accounting experts function as independent witnesses, advocating not for a side but for their findings. Many legal proceedings include financial issues, yet the judge and jury may have little or no experience with financial matters. The expertise provided by forensic accountants is crucial for judges, juries, and even law enforcement, who rely on their unbiased interpretations of financial data.

Their role extends beyond mere analysis; they craft comprehensive reports and exhibits that can define the course of a trial, aiding those involved in understanding the financial narratives at play.

Enhancing legal strategies

In any legal battle involving corporate disputes, personal injury claims, or family law, the forensic accountant's ability to decipher the financial aspects is invaluable.

Victims often lack the financial acumen to follow the money trail or comprehend the economic implications of their cases. Suspects may plead their innocence, but have difficulty defending themselves without fully understanding the financial intricacies of the charges being brought against them. Here, the forensic accountant steps in to unravel complex financial details. This expertise ensures that all parties, especially those directly involved, can approach the case with a clearer understanding and stronger evidence.

Supporting the legal team

Forensic accountants significantly ease the burden on attorneys by assisting with various facets of the legal process, such as discovery, financial analysis, and trial preparation. They formulate pivotal questions for depositions and cross-examinations and provide testimony that can pivot a trial's outcome.

By translating complex financial data into understandable terms, they help paint a clearer picture of the financial history and implications for the future. The forensic accounting expert’s testimony can be the difference between winning and losing the case.

The unbiased truth-seeker

Unlike clients and attorneys, who are inherently biased due to their positions, forensic accountants offer an objective perspective crucial in legal proceedings. Their findings are rooted in facts and delivered without prejudice, enhancing the credibility of the evidence presented and supporting the judicial process through solid, fact-based information.

Aiding law enforcement and judicial bodies

Forensic accountants also extend their expertise to law enforcement agencies by helping them understand the financial elements of criminal investigations, an understanding that is crucial in determining whether to prosecute a case.

Their expert reports and testimonies can clarify the financial details, influencing the outcomes of trials. Sometimes the expert report alone can aid in securing confessions to avoid prolonged legal battles.

Mediation and arbitration support

In alternative dispute resolutions like mediation and arbitration, forensic accountants can be engaged jointly by both parties to assess financial disputes objectively. Sometimes if one party is particularly vulnerable, they may benefit from retaining their own forensic accountant to ensure their concerns are adequately researched and sufficient evidence is obtained through discovery.

Whether engaged jointly by both parties or separately, they provide critical financial insights that guide mediators and arbitrators in resolving disputes fairly and equitably.

A forensic accountant’s ability to impartially evaluate and present financial data ensures that all parties clearly understand the stakes and potential outcomes.

The comprehensive role before, during, and after trial

Forensic accountants are integral from the onset of a legal issue to its resolution. They begin by assisting with discovery — gathering and interpreting financial data and interviewing key individuals.

As the case progresses, they analyze pertinent data to develop their reports, which are foundational to their testimony in court. Often, their involvement can lead to settlements before a trial is necessary, as their clear exposition of financial issues helps parties reach mutual agreements.

Bottom line

The role of a forensic accounting expert is multifaceted and vital in the landscape of legal proceedings. Their ability to provide clear, unbiased, and expert financial analysis not only aids in understanding complex financial situations but also fortifies the integrity of the judicial process.

Forensic accountants ensure that justice is informed and precisely served by bridging the gap between intricate financial data and legal strategies.

Scott Koman, CPA, CVA, CFE, MAFF is a Director with Boyer & Ritter LLC. He is a key member of the firm's Advisory Services Group and leads the firm's Forensic Accounting team. He has experience working with for-profit organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and governmental entities. Reach Scott at (717) 761-7210 x1285 or skoman@cpabr.com.

Rachel Bosworth, CFE, is a Senior Associate at Boyer & Ritter LLC. She contributes to the firm's Advisory Services Group, specializing in forensic accounting, litigation support, and business valuations. Reach Rachel at (717) 761-7210 x1120 or rbosworth@cpabr.com.

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