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Looking at the recently delivered findings and conclusions in Brandt et al. v. Rutledge et al., full text here. On pp. 56-57 of the PDF, one of the expert witnesses is discussed (emphasis added):

Dr. Levine was the State’s only expert witness who has experience treating patients with gender dysphoria. In his practice, he has enabled minor patients with gender dysphoria to access hormone therapy on a case-by-case basis. (Tr. 785:3-6, ECF No. 246 (Levine)).

Dr. Levine does not support banning gender-affirming medical care for adolescents with gender dysphoria. He has concerns about Act 626’s impact on youth who are currently receiving gender-affirming hormones.

Dr. Levine testified that doctors who provide gender-affirming medical care to adolescents with gender dysphoria encourage patients to identify as transgender and provide hormones immediately without assessing patients and addressing other mental health conditions or informing patients and their parents of the risks and the limitations of the evidence regarding treatments. Id. at 809:18- 810:4; 811:21-812:10; 824:5-14 (Levine). He offered no evidence that treatment was being provided this way in Arkansas or anywhere in the United States. Dr. Levine conceded he has no knowledge of how most gender clinics provide care and, thus, does not know how common it is for care to be provided in the way he described. Id. at 887:19-888:25 (Levine). He further does not know how care is provided by doctors in Arkansas. Id. at 888:24-891:16 (Levine).

The Court found Dr. Levine a very credible witness who struggles with the conflict between his scientific understanding for the need for transgender care and his faith.

From p. 60:

The legislative findings in Act 626 assert that there is insufficient evidence of the efficacy of gender-affirming medical care for minors. Some of the state’s expert witnesses—Dr. Levine and Dr. Hruz—offered opinions to that effect. (Tr. 833:12-16, ECF No. 246 (Levine); Tr. 1274:15-25, ECF No. 249 (Hruz)). The Court does not credit these opinions because it finds that the evidence showed that decades of clinical experience in addition to a body of scientific research demonstrate the effectiveness of these treatments.

p. 71:

The State argues that minors with gender dysphoria will desist with age. They contend that there is a significant risk of harm to a minor who elects to undergo gender hormone therapy or surgery because they will eventually identify with their sex assigned at birth and regret the treatment they sought as a minor. The State offered the testimony of Dr. Levine to support this argument. The Court found Dr. Levine’s testimony to be inconsistent and unreliable in this area. To the contrary, the evidence proved that there is broad consensus in the field that once adolescents reach the early stages of puberty and experience gender dysphoria, it is very unlikely they will subsequently identify as cisgender or desist. (Tr. 310:13-25, ECF No. 220 (Turban)).

In this context, what does it mean to describe a witness as "very credible", and yet not to credit their evidence? The court clearly had significant doubts about the accuracy of his testimony, the findings note his lack of knowledge on key points, and that his testimony was in some areas "inconsistent and unreliable". How do those reconcile?

Does "credible" here mean "comes with good credentials" (e.g. his experience treating trans children) rather than "gave evidence that should be credited"? Or is there some other nuance here?

(I'm not looking for discussion on the merits of the case, only on how this description of a witness reconciles with the assessment of his evidence.)

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  • Is there an actual contraction here? I would read this as simply saying the Court believed what he said in the first quote but didn't believe or disagreed with what he said in the second and third quote. He said lots of things, the Court agreed with some but not with others.
    – quarague
    Jun 21, 2023 at 13:06
  • 1
    @quarague The description of him as "very credible" comes immediately after a paragraph that focuses on his inability to support his claims and his lack of knowledge about how care is provided in AK. I have difficulty interpreting that as saying the Court believed those statements. Jun 21, 2023 at 14:55
  • He first states that the treatment could be delivered in a certain way and then that he doesn't know whether it actually is delivered that way anywhere. The Court believes both of these statements.
    – quarague
    Jun 22, 2023 at 6:31

3 Answers 3

12

There is a distinction between credibility and reliability. Credibility is about sincerity. Reliability is about ultimate accuracy, which can be doubted for reasons other than sincerity (memory, perception, narration, etc.)

R. v. H.C., 2009 ONCA 56:

Credibility and reliability are different. Credibility has to do with a witness’s veracity, reliability with the accuracy of the witness’s testimony. Accuracy engages consideration of the witness’s ability to accurately

i. observe;

ii. recall; and

iii. recount

events in issue. Any witness whose evidence on an issue is not credible cannot give reliable evidence on the same point. Credibility, on the other hand, is not a proxy for reliability: a credible witness may give unreliable evidence ...

1
  • 2
    All three answers I received were helpful, and generally agreeing in substance. The tiebreaker for me is that this one includes a supporting cite. Thanks all! Jun 22, 2023 at 6:49
13

Credible means "not lying".

But someone who is telling the truth to the best of their ability may still lack the knowledge to be a strong witness on the matters that the court has to make a decision upon.

For example, if a witness testifies that there was a fight involving a large man and a woman, but is legally blind and didn't get a good view of the people involved, the witness's testimony can be credible, while still not proving the case that a particular person was the large man in question.

"Credited" means that the evidence provided by someone provided an important factual basis upon which to resolve a disputed issue of fact.

5
  • 1
    Confusing that "credible" and "to be credited" don't have the same meaning here, but the English language never did have much respect for its own etymology ;-) Jun 21, 2023 at 7:57
  • @MatthieuM. That is indeed a common use of "credited", but it also retains the "trust"/"believe" meaning, which appears to be the intended meaning here. Jun 21, 2023 at 14:51
  • I suggest you change "not lying" to "worthy of belief". As your example shows, "not lying" is only one prong of credible. Someone who simply does not know what is he talking about is not credible but not lying either.
    – David42
    Jun 22, 2023 at 17:42
  • @David42 In the context of how it is used in the cited court opinion, this is not what "credible" means and both answers to the question have taken pains to make that distinction. If the person does not know what they are talking about, their testimony might not be reliable or not "given credit", but if the judge believes that they aren't lying, the testimony is still "credible" in the sense that the judge in the cited court opinion is using the term. Indeed the judge both finds the testimony to be "very credible" and also declines to "give credit" to the testimony.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 22, 2023 at 18:10
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    I want back and read the quote in the question. The judge does seem to be using "credible" with respect to the witness as a synonym for "honest and sincere". @Jen's answer also quotes an appeals court opinion which seems to define "credibility" of a witness this way. However, the same appeals decision quotes with seeming favor the trial court judge making "honesty" and "reliability" two prongs of "credibility". The judge in the question seems to be using "credible" in one sense with respect to the witness and in another with respect to his testimony, likely out of tact.
    – David42
    Jun 22, 2023 at 19:38
2

Credibility of a witness has aspects such as appearance of honesty, appearance of forthrightness, reliability of senses and memory (a distinct concept from the overall reliability of the testimony), impartiality/objectivity regarding the issue at hand, consistency, clarity, professional or other reputation (including experience, knowledge, training), and, above all, direct and comprehensive witnessing of the events or facts that they are reporting on.

Even the most credible testimony on any matter has only a limited probatory value. It may be the best evidence available in a case, or it may not be.

This question shows an example where one of the sides of a dispute produced a very credible witness, trying to prove a negative claim through their testimony, and the other side presumably offered some evidence to the contrary (to the corresponding positive claim). It is generally difficult to prove a negative - even if you summon a diverse group of expert witnesses with stellar credentials, it might happen that the other side will be able to prove the corresponding positive claim with at least the same level of persuasiveness.

Finally, if a testimony is characterized as "inconsistent" (i.e., some part of what the witness said is contradicting something else that they also said in the courtroom), its overall credibility/persuasiveness may be high, but not stellar.

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  • So it meas that a witness is considered credible if he is not lying and is not inconsistent. He might be factually wrong, or he might hold beliefs considered extremely immoral, but as long as he is up front and consistent, he is considered credible?
    – vsz
    Jun 21, 2023 at 12:16
  • @vsz - I have listed way more aspects than those two and that wasn't even meant to be an exhaustive list. I suspect that credibility ultimately equals persuasiveness. If the court takes their time to consider multiple aspects of credibility, they may do a better job of assessing the value of the testimony than if they just follow their first gut feeling, but I suspect that credibility is eventually a somewhat subjective concept, even in formal court proceedings. Jun 21, 2023 at 12:20
  • @vsz - In court proceedings, the testimony has a defined scope, dependent on the case at hand. The same person may be a credible witness in one set of circumstances and an irrelevant, even inadmissible witness in others. For example, if a witness has only second hand information to offer, it doesn't matter whether it is neat and consistent or otherwise. Jun 21, 2023 at 12:26

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