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Ricks v. Pauch, 2020 WL 1491750 (E.D. Mich. 2020)

Case (cite)
Ricks v. Pauch, 2020 WL 1491750 (E.D. Mich. 2020)
Year
2020
State
Michigan
Type of proceeding
Trial
Type of claim
Evidentiary
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
Admitted
What was the ruling?
N/A
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Plaintiff
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
David Townsend, David Balash, Dean Molnar
Summary of reasons for ruling
The court held that the NAS2009 and PCAST reports do not relate to the reliability of the expert testimony in this case because the expert's here only testified to class charactersitics, which was not challenged in the reports. Further, they cited to other courts' admission of firearms testimony even after considering the NAS and PCAST reports. The court also found that the expert's training and experience qualified them as experts.Defendants argued that the testimony was not based in sufficient facts or data because the firearm itself was not examined. The court finds this irrelevent because the experts only testified about class characteristics and not to anything about a specific gun. Further, the method was applied reliably in this case because the specific gun is not needed to observe class characterstics of that type of gun
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Rule 702; Daubert
Did lower court hold a hearing
Does not say
Names of prosecution expert(s) two testified at hearing
Names of defense expert(s) who testified at hearing (or None).
Discussion of 2009 NAS Report (NAS2009) or PCAST report (PCAST)
NAS2009; PCAST
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
N
Daubert ruling emphasizing – which factors – (list 1-5)
overall reliability
Ruling on qualifications of expert
Y
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
Y
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
Y

Notes

Note on experts: In the orignial trial, the prosecutions used David Pauch and Robert Wilson as expert examiners. The defense had an expert (David Townsend) that was given bullets to examine that were later shown to not be the bullets retrieved from the victim. Post-conviction, another expert (David Molnar) examined the bullets (but at this time they had destroyed the defendant’s gun) and concluded the bullets could not have come from that type of gun. For this trial, the plaintiff (former defendant) used David Balash and David Townsend, both of which said that the bullets could not have come from the gun. The defense used Jay Jarvis, who also said the bullets coud not have come from the gun. The defendants (including the former prosecution’s experts) challenge the admissibility of Balash, Townsend, and Molnar.

 

“Courts have addressed the criticisms in this 2009 NRC Report, that firearms and toolmark examination is subjective and lacks a precisely defined protocol, with examiners relying on their training and experience to determine if there is a “sufficient agreement” (i.e. match) between the mark patterns on the casing or bullet and the firearms’ barrel, but have found that those criticisms did not render firearms and toolmark identification evidence unreliable under Daubert and Kumho Tire.”

 

Again, courts have addressed this Report and noted that while the PCAST Report concludes that “ ‘firearms analysis currently falls short of the criteria for foundational validity, because there is only a single appropriately designed study to measure validity and estimate reliability,’ ” the Report “makes no recommendation as to the admissibility of such evidence in legal proceedings; ‘[w]hether firearms analysis should be deemed admissible based on current evidence is a decision that belongs to the courts.’ ” See Johnson, 2019 WL 1130258, at * 11 (citing PCAST Report at p. 112.) The Romero-Lobato court further noted that, after its publication, “the PCAST Report was criticized by a number of entities, including the DOJ, FBI, ATF, and AFTE” because of “its lack of transparency and consistency in determining which studies met its strict criteria and which did not and its failure to consult with any experts in the firearm and tool mark examination field.”

 

As the Johnson court found, courts that have reexamined the reliability of toolmark identification evidence based on review of the above scientific reports have admitted expert testimony concerning toolmark identification, rejecting arguments that the above scientific reports rendered such evidence inadmissible. Johnson, 2019 WL 1130258, at * 12-13 (collecting cases). The courts reasoned that the weaknesses in toolmark identification can be effectively explored on cross-examination, but also precluded the experts from expressing their opinions in terms of absolute scientific certainty.

 

Interesting case because firearms experts are the ones questioning the admissibility of the testimony