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Sanford v. Russell, 387 F.Supp.3d 774 (E.D. Mich. 2019)

Case (cite)
Sanford v. Russell, 387 F.Supp.3d 774 (E.D. Mich. 2019)
Type of proceeding
Type of claim
Type of claim (second claim)
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
What was the ruling?
Correct to Admit
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
David Balash
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendants argue that the expert is not qualified based on his not having a degree in forensic science, has not published in this area, has no statistical training, and did not receive further professional training after retiring from law enforcement nearly 30 years earlier. The court disagrees and states that the defendant has understaded the experts qualifications through experience doing firearms identification and testifying and completing training programs over many years. Lack of degree in forensic science does not disqualify him from testifying since he has practical knowledge of this area. Defendants also argue that their own expert contradicts the prosecutions expert which shows they are inherently unreliable. The court disagrees and holds that an expert's testimony "is not rendered unreliable by opposing expert testimony that contradicts it" because that establishes a fact dispute Finally, defendants argue for exlcusion based on experts failing to rely on peer reviewed studies, lack of empiricle testing of the expert's methods, his inability to identify an error rate, and his failure to review published literature. The court holds that it was sufficient that the expert relied on methods he'd used throughout his career and that expirimentation and reliance on peer reviewed mthods are not sine qua non of reliability because the test is flexible.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Second standard
Rule 702
Did lower court hold a hearing
Names of prosecution expert(s) two testified at hearing
Names of defense expert(s) who testified at hearing (or None).
Defense had an expert testify at trial
Discussion of 2009 NAS Report (NAS2009)
Discussion of 2016 PCAST report (PCAST)
Discussion of error rates / reliability
Frye Ruling
Limiting testimony ruling
Language imposed by court to limit testimony
Ruling based in prior precedent / judicial notice
Daubert ruling emphasizing – which factors – (list 1-5)
All factors
Ruling on qualifications of expert
Ruling on 702(a) – the expert will help / assist the jury
Ruling on 702(b) – the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data
Ruling on 702(c) – the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods
Ruling on 702(d) – reliable application of principles and methods to the facts of the case


“Once again, Balash applied the methods that he used throughout his career to answer a question that had been posed to him many times. Experimentation and reliance on peer-reviewed studies are not the sine qua non of reliability of expert testimony. Rather, “[t]he test of reliability is ‘flexible,’ and the Daubert factors do not constitute a ‘definitive checklist or test,’ but may be tailored to the facts of a particular case.” . . . Balash says that he used forensic methods of tool mark analysis and identification customarily used in police crime laboratories. That is sufficient to establish the reliability of his approach.”




“The criticism of Balash’s lack of experience with particular testing methods or lack of formal training in “statistics” — which has no apparent relevant relationship to the analysis of firearm tool marks or gunshot residue — is not fatal to the admissibility of his testimony where he asserts that he applied methods of examination which, based on his extensive experience, are accepted in his field. ”


In response to Defendant’s arugment that the testimony was inherently unreliable because their own expert’s testimony contradicted it: “an expert’s testimony is not rendered unreliable by opposing expert testimony that contradicts it, because contradictory fact or opinion evidence merely establishes a fact dispute.”