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State v. West, 2014 WL 2777156 (N.C. App. 2014)

Case (cite)
State v. West, 2014 WL 2777156 (N.C. App. 2014)
North Carolina
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
Jessica Pappas
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argued the expert's testimony violated the court's ruling limiting her testimony and that admitting her testimony violated the defendant's constitutional right to be tried based on relaible evidence because firearms identifcation is unreliable. The court held that she did not violate the trial courts ruling because, although she testified that the bullet was fired from the defendant's gun, she did not say that his gun was the only gun in the world it could have come from. Further, the court finds that NC courts have routinely upheld the admissibility of firearms identification evidence. Defendant's argument about the expert's conclusions go to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Rule 702
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


“A trial court should first look to precedent for guidance in determining whether the method of proof underlying an expert’s opinion is reliable. . .. Once the trial court determines the expert’s method of proof is reliable, “any lingering questions or controversy concerning the quality of the expert’s conclusions go to the weight of the testimony rather than its admissibility.” . . . It is well settled that firearm toolmark identification is recognized as a reliable method of proof as “[c]ourts in North Carolina have upheld the admission of expert testimony on firearm toolmark identification for decades.”




Trial court limitations on testimony: “The Court, however, is going to limit the opinion of the expert to not allow the expert to testify that a match may be done to the exclusion of all other guns in the universe. The expert may testify, as was stated by the expert on the stand during this voir dire, that a bullet came from a particular gun to within a reasonable degree of certainty in the firearms examination field and any other language that describes what that field is, and what the reasonable degree of certainty is. I’m just not going to allow her to say that it is to the exclusion of all other guns in the universe. And that will be my ruling in this matter.”


“The court’s ruling only limited Agent Pappas from testifying that a bullet was fired from a particular gun to the exclusion of all others. Our review of the record reveals that Agent Pappas opined, based on her analysis, that the bullet recovered from Brown’s head and a shell casing retrieved from the scene of the shooting were fired from the .380 caliber Cobra handgun. Agent Pappas did not testify, as defendant contends, that “[defendant’s] gun was the only gun in the world that could have been the source of the bullet and casing.””


Note: the limitation language is very vague and I found it interesting that her testimony does not appear to to state her opinions to any degree of certainty (at least not mentioned by the court) and yet the court upheld it as complying with the limitation.