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United States v. Black, 2015 WL 13660442 (D. Minn. 2015)

Case (cite)
United States v. Black, 2015 WL 13660442 (D. Minn. 2015)
Type of proceeding
Type of claim
Type of claim (second claim)
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
What was the ruling?
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
General admissibility of toolmark analysis
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argues that firearms identification is not supported by a sufficiently scientific basis to be admissible (citing NAS2009 about subjectivity in the field). The court held that, despite the subjective nature, courts continue to allow firearm identificaiton testimony under 702 and Daubert (relying mostly on the Taylor analysis). The court held, however, that the subjective nature required the testimony to be limited.
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).
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


Court just held generally that this satisfies 702, but does not make a ruling on any specific part of 702.




“After a review of Defendants’ arguments, the NAS Report, and the relevant case law, the Court concludes that firearm and toolmark identification is sufficiently reliable for admission under Rule 702. Numerous courts across the country have conducted thorough analyses of the reliability of toolmark identification with firearms in light of the NAS Report. It appears that in every instance, the court determined that expert testimony on toolmark analysis was admissible. . . . Indeed, Woods has not cited a single case excluding this type of expert testimony.”


However, because the process relies to some degree on each examiner’s experience, expertise, and subjective analysis, the Court concludes, as have numerous other courts, that any ballistics expert may not testify that (1) he/she is “certain” or “100% sure” that two items match, (2) a match is to “the exclusion of all other firearms in the world,” or (3) there is a “practical impossibility” that any other gun could have fired the recovered materials. A firearms expert may only testify that, in his or her expert opinion, the bullet came from the suspect firearm to within a reasonable degree of certainty in the firearms examination field. At trial, Defendants are, of course, entitled to introduce testimony that refutes the testimony of the Government’s expert(s) conclusions, to the extent allowed by the district judge presiding over their trial.