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United States v. Johnson, 2019 WL 1130258 (S.D.N.Y. 2019)

Case (cite)
United States v. Johnson, 2019 WL 1130258 (S.D.N.Y. 2019)
Year
2019
State
New York
Type of proceeding
Trial
Type of claim
Evidentiary
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
Admitted
What was the ruling?
N/A; Trial court
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Prosecution
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
Jonathan Fox
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argued that testimony should be excluded because toolmark identification is too subjective, there is no known arror rate, and there is no empirical basis that individual firearms leave unique marks. The court held that all Daubert factors were satisfied, largely supporting their reasoning through cases from other jurisdictions. Further the court stated, "the weaknesses in the methodology of toolmark identification analysis are readily apparent, have been discussed at length in the scientific literature, and can be addressed effectively on cross-examination. These weaknesses are also not particularly complicated or difficult to grasp, and thus are likely to be understood by jurors if addressed on cross-examination"Because the expert clearly stated that he "would never" state his conclusions as 100% certainty, the court declined to limit his testimony.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Daubert; 702
Did lower court hold a hearing
N/A
Names of prosecution expert(s) two testified at hearing
Fox
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
Y
Frye Ruling
N
Limiting testimony ruling
Y
Language imposed by court to limit testimony
Chose not to limit
Ruling based in prior precedent / judicial notice
N
Daubert ruling emphasizing – which factors – (list 1-5)
(1), (2), (3), (4), (5)
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
N
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
N

Notes

Although this Court is aware of no decision that has outright excluded toolmark identification evidence as unreliable, over the past fifteen years the methodology for toolmark identification has come under increasing scrutiny in the courts.

 

It is also worth noting that the authors of the three scientific reports explicitly acknowledged that the rigorous, entirely objective, infallible, and certain standards that prevail within a scientific discipline are not necessarily properly applied in a courtroom. Indeed, the authors were careful to emphasize that their conclusions should not be read as commentary on the admissibility of toolmark evidence in courts.