A federal court in Georgia presiding over a criminal action against the owner and employees of the now-defunct Peanut Corp. of America, purportedly involved in a 2009 nationwide Salmonella outbreak, conducted a hearing on March 13, 2014, to determine whether the expert testimony proffered as to owner Stewart Parnell’s ability to form the intent to commit the alleged crimes is admissible under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

According to defense expert Joseph Conley, a clinical psychologist, Parnell has an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) condition. Defense counsel claims that Conley’s testimony will show that Parnell did not commit the alleged crimes because he did not factually acquire the knowledge necessary to form an intent about the actions the government has alleged. Conley would testify that Parnell’s ADHD is so severe that he likely never read, nor understood the significance of, many of the emails on which the government’s case relies.

The prosecution filed a report prepared by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Professor David Schretlen, a potential expert witness, who challenges the reliability of Conley’s principles and methods, claiming that he failed to secure sufficient information, including grade school performance and childhood diagnoses, or administer tests that would support the defense’s argument. Schretlen observes that “both his cognitive test performance and his own written replies show that Mr. Parnell can pay attention  to details, think and respond quickly, and grasp the significance of communiqués about product safety. Thus, I do not believe that neuropsychological expertise will help the trier of fact better understand evidence about whether Mr. Parnell had sufficient knowledge to commit the alleged crimes.”

Details about the criminal charges arising from the outbreak that sickened more than 700 people appear in Issue 472 of this Update. The court did not issue a ruling at the conclusion of the hearing.