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Spears v. Ryan, 2016 WL 6699681 (D. Ariz. 2016)

Case (cite)
Spears v. Ryan, 2016 WL 6699681 (D. Ariz. 2016)
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
Jon Kokanovich
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argues that criticisms of toolmark analysis in the NAS report and the Tobin article constitutes newly discovered material facts that may have changed the verdict at his trial. The court holds that this evidence does not constitute newly discovered material because critiques of toolmark analysis existed at the time of the trial and that other courts have also found the NAS report to not constitute newly discovered evidence. Further, the court finds that it would not have likely changed the verdict because toolmark analysis remains widely accepted by courts after the NAS report. The expert did not testify conclusively to a scientific match so the testimony would not have been excluded anyway.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Second standard
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).
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)
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


“Notwithstanding the concerns raised in the NAS Report, courts have continued to find toolmark evidence admissible. See United States v. Cazares, 788 F.3d 956, 988 (9th Cir. 2015) (collecting cases); United States v. Otero, 849 F. Supp. 2d 425, 438 (D.N.J. 2012), aff’d, 557 Fed.Appx. 146 (3d Cir. 2014); Rice, No. CV 15-291, 2016 WL 3009392, at *9–10. Therefore, although “critics of the science underlying ballistic toolmark analysis raise legitimate concerns about whether the process has been demonstrated to be sufficiently reliable to be called a ‘science,’ ” there is widespread agreement “that it is sufficiently plausible, relevant, and helpful to the jury to be admitted in some form.” United States v. Willock, 696 F.Supp.2d 536, 568 (D. Md. 2010).”




“The NAS Report more closely resembles the new research at issue in Amaral. Additional research has been carried out which challenges the ability of toolmark analysis to support claims of uniqueness or individuation. This increased understanding of the science behind toolmark analysis does not mean that the conclusions of the NAS Report, or Tobin’s discussion of those conclusions, are newly-discovered evidence. Unlike the PTSD diagnosis in Bilke, criticism of toolmarks analysis existed at the time of Spears’s trial. ”