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United States v. Tibbs, 2019 WL 4359486 (D.C. Super. 2019)

Case (cite)
United States v. Tibbs, 2019 WL 4359486 (D.C. Super. 2019)
Year
2019
State
DC
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
Christopher Coleman
Summary of reasons for ruling
"In weighing and applying these factors pursuant to Daubert, Motorola, and Rule 702, the Court found that—particularly in light of the inability of the published studies to establish an error rate, the absence of an objective standard for identification, and the lack of general acceptance of the foundational validity of the field outside of the community of practitioners within the field—reliable principles and methods do not adequately support the theory that a firearms examiner can identify a particular firearm as having fired a particular bullet or cartridge casing."However, the court held that since the defendant did not challenge the reliability of the entire discipline or the reliability of the methods used by the expert, the expert could testify to a limited extent.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
Daubert, Motorola, and Rule 702
Did lower court hold a hearing
Y (this court held one, not lower court)
Names of prosecution expert(s) two testified at hearing
Todd J. Weller; Dr. Nicholas Petraco
Names of defense expert(s) who testified at hearing (or None).
Professor David Faigman; Dr. Nicholas Surreply
Discussion of 2009 NAS Report (NAS2009) or PCAST report (PCAST)
NRC reports; PCAST
Discussion of error rates / reliability
Y
Frye Ruling
N
Limiting testimony ruling
Y
Language imposed by court to limit testimony
"In sum, Mr. Coleman may conclude that based on his examination and the consistency of the class characteristics and microscopic toolmarks, the recovered firearm cannot be excluded as the source of the cartridge casing found on the scene of the alleged shooting—in other words, that the firearm may have fired the recovered casing. Mr. Coleman may not state an ultimate conclusion in stronger terms. Similarly, Mr. Coleman will be precluded at any point in his testimony from stating that individual marks are unique to a particular firearm or that observed individual characteristics can be used to “match” a firearm to a piece of ballistics evidence."
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
N
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 (but discusses this issue with the field)
Ruling on 702(c) – the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods
N
Ruling on 702(d) – reliable application of principles and methods to the facts of the case
N

Notes

Discussion precedent cases: “In evaluating the persuasive weight of these decisions, however, the undersigned could not help but note that, despite the enhanced gatekeeping role demanded by Daubert, see 509 U.S. at 589, the overwhelming majority of the reported post-Daubert cases regarding this type of expert opinion testimony have not engaged in a particularly extensive or probing analysis of the evidence’s reliability. In 2009, the National Research Council (“NRC”) specifically criticized the judiciary’s treatment of issues relating to the admissibility of firearms and toolmark evidence and the judiciary’s failure to apply Daubert in a meaningful fashion. . . . Without disparaging the work of other courts, the NRC’s critique of our profession rings true, at least to the undersigned: many of the published post-Daubert opinions on firearms and toolmark identification involved no hearing on the admissibility of the evidence or only a cursory analysis of the relevant issues. Our Court of Appeals has noted that “[t]here is no ‘grandfathering’ provision in Rule 702.” Motorola, 147 A.3d at 758. Yet, the case law in this area follows a pattern in which holdings supported by limited analysis are nonetheless subsequently deferred to by one court after another. This pattern creates the appearance of an avalanche of authority; on closer examination, however, these precedents ultimately stand on a fairly flimsy foundation.”

 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, despite the criticisms of the NRC and other bodies, the judicial branch has demonstrated an aversion to meaningful hearings on this issue.

 

As a general matter, those courts that have found low error rates for this discipline appear to have done so by simply accepting the conclusions of the studies as presented and without any analysis of the methodological or other issues presented in them

 

On limiting testimony: “It would be fanciful to conclude that the normal adversarial process would enable a lay jury to adequately understand these issues, and it is similarly unrealistic to conclude that the average attorney in the average trial would be able to raise these issues in front of the jury in this fashion, particularly when this issue would be one among many issues to be presented to the jury in a trial.”