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People v. Blacknell, 2015 WL 6157479 (Ct. App. Cal. 2015)

Case (cite)
People v. Blacknell, 2015 WL 6157479 (Ct. App. Cal. 2015)
Year
2015
State
California
Type of proceeding
Appellate
Type of claim
Evidentiary
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
Admitted
What was the ruling?
Correct to Admit
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Prosecution
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
Murdock
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argues that firearms identification should be considered a new scientific technique and re-examined in light of recent criticisms. The court agrees with the Diaz court in finding firearms identification testimony reliable despite the NAS reports, stating that the NAS report does not call for an abandonment of the field. Further, the court relies on precedent to hold that firearms identification has been long accepted in California courts and therefore a Kelly/Frye hearing is not applicable. Finally under Sargon, which requires a reasonable basis for expert testimony, firearms testimony has a reasonable basis and is admissible.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Kelly/Frye; Sargon
Did lower court hold a hearing
Y
Names of prosecution expert(s) two testified at hearing
Murdock, James Hamby
Names of defense expert(s) who testified at hearing (or None).
David Faigman, William Tobin, Clifford Spiegelman (statistician)
Discussion of 2009 NAS Report (NAS2009) or PCAST report (PCAST)
NAS2009
Discussion of error rates / reliability
N
Frye Ruling
N
Limiting testimony ruling
N
Language imposed by court to limit testimony
N/A
Ruling based in prior precedent / judicial notice
Y (partially)
Daubert ruling emphasizing – which factors – (list 1-5)
N/A
Ruling on qualifications of expert
N
Ruling on 702(a) – the expert will help / assist the jury
N
Ruling on 702(b) – the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data
N
Ruling on 702(c) – the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods
Y
Ruling on 702(d) – reliable application of principles and methods to the facts of the case
N

Notes

Trial court reasoning for allowing the testimony: ” It found toolmark testimony had been admitted in California courts for many years and had not been subject to question. Further, reviewing the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial court found toolmark testimony was valid. It considered the “credibility” and “demeanor” of defendant’s experts and found their testimony did not disclose errors in identification procedures. It recognized these experts’ critique was the lack of a statistical foundation for making statements that casings and guns matched to a certain degree of probability. But it was concerned these experts had no experience actually performing toolmark identification. It further found Murdock and the prosecution witnesses credible on the manner in which toolmark analyses are done. Finally, it found the NAS reports, though raising criticisms of the toolmark field, explicitly disclaimed an intent to address the credibility of the field in court. When asked for clarification, the trial court explained it would not be limiting the nature of the statement of probability that an expert could make about a match, leaving it for cross examination to explore the strength of any statement of a probable match.”

 

Expert testimony in trial court: “He was questioned about the meaning of “practical” certainty or identity. He was questioned about the NAS reports and other criticisms of the field. He was questioned about when examiners reach opposite conclusions and about a lab in Detroit with high error rates. He conceded identifications to the practical exclusion of other guns were not based on statistical models or mathematics.”