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United States v. Wrensford, 2014 WL 3715036 (D. V.I. 2014)

Case (cite)
United States v. Wrensford, 2014 WL 3715036 (D. V.I. 2014)
Virgin Islands
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
Reynold DeSouza
Summary of reasons for ruling
Qualifications: Defendant aruges that the expert is not qualified because he made a "major mishap" in not comparing the bullet from the crime scene to a test fired bullet from the same gun before concluding which gun the bullet came from. The court held that his training and experience did qualify him as an expert and that "actual or perceived shorcomings in DeSouza's knowledge and technique are 'classic subjects of cross-examination and go to the weight that a fact-finder should plcae on his opinions, not on the reliability or admissiblity of those opinions under Daubert.'" The court further held that it did not matter that he had only testified in a few other firearms cases.Reliability: The court held that the AFTE technique used by the expert was reliable. There had been numerous validation studies, other courts had "thoroughly examined" the subjectivity of toolmark identification and agreed that it was not unreliable, there were many published studies in the AFTE Journal, it is widely generally accetped, DeSouza's mistake was caught during the peer review process, and there is a low error rate. The court held that the government had not proved that this technique had been used in non-judicial settings, weighing against admissibility.
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
Maurice Cooper, Richard Matthews, Reynold DeSouza
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)
All factors
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


“Cooper was asked about the error rate in firearm identifications. He responded that, years ago, Collaborative Testing Services (“CTS”)—a company that evaluates laboratory testing—found an error rate of one to two percent in firearms and toolmark examinations.7 AFTE investigated this high error rate and determined that CTS: (1) had not evaluated each test before it was sent out; (2) had trainees rather than qualified firearms examiners conducting the tests; and (3) eliminated a firearm based upon a difference in individual characteristics, while Cooper and AFTE believed in eliminating a firearm based only on a difference in class characteristics. Cooper referred to the SWGGUN slides that showed that AFTE subsequently conducted thirteen validity studies and found error rates averaging close to zero when performed by properly trained and qualified examiners.”




“In that regard, Rule 702, “which governs the admissibility of expert testimony, has a liberal policy of admissibility.” Kannankeril, 128 F.3d at 806.”


“Wrensford acknowledges, as he must, that the current state of the case law shows that the field of firearms and toolmark identification is generally accepted under Daubert. He nevertheless asserts that, particularly during 2004–2009, courts questioned the field and in some cases limited the degree of certainty with which experts could state their conclusions. He adds that this Court can assess those cases and exercise its discretion as to whether it will accept this field. In view of the evidence presented and in accord with the conclusions of other courts, the Court finds that firearms and toolmark examination is generally accepted, and that the “generally accepted” Daubert factor weighs in favor of admissibility.”