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Williams v. Commonwealth, 2020 WL 1488775 (Ct. App. Ky. 2020)

Case (cite)
Williams v. Commonwealth, 2020 WL 1488775 (Ct. App. Ky. 2020)
Year
2020
State
Kentucky
Type of proceeding
Appellate
Type of claim
Evidentiary
Expert evidence ruling reversing or affirming on appeal:
Admitted
What was the ruling?
Correct to Admit
Type of evidence at issue:
Firearms identification
Defense or Prosecution Expert
Prosecution
Name of expert(s) who were the subject of the ruling
Stephen Hughes
Summary of reasons for ruling
Defendant argues that the court erred in denying him a Daubert hearing because the PCAST report is proof that bullet comparison is not reliable and that his bullet was damaged. The Defendant also argued that the Tibbs court's opinion limiting the testmony to the firearm cannot be excluded is evidence that a reasonable judge could determine the methods aren't reliable. The court disagreed. The court cites a KY Supreme Court decision (Garrett) that found firearms analysis reliable and valid and held that the trial court did abuse its discretion by taking judicial notice of the reliability of toolmark analysis given its extensive history as admissible evidence in KY. The court also notes that Garrett was decided in 2017, the year after the PCAST report was released.
The jurisdiction’s standard for expert admissibility at the time – list all that apply: (Frye), (Daubert), (Post-2000 Rule 702), (Other)
702, Daubert
Did lower court hold a hearing
N
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) or PCAST report (PCAST)
PCAST
Discussion of error rates / reliability
N
Frye Ruling
N
Limiting testimony ruling
N
Language imposed by court to limit testimony
N/A
Ruling based in prior precedent / judicial notice
Y (judicial notice + Garrett)
Daubert ruling emphasizing – which factors – (list 1-5)
N/A
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
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

Our Supreme Court first noted that “ballistics testimony has been allowed by this Court since at least 1948.” Id. (citing Morris v. Commonwealth, 306 Ky. 349, 208 S.W.2d 58 (1948)). The Court then held that the testimony of the expert was admissible under Daubert criteria. Id. at 222-23.
Our Supreme Court has accepted the reliability and validity of ballistic testing, such as that in Garrett and in this case, and the trial court here properly took judicial notice of its reliability and validity. Johnson, 12 S.W.3d at 262. The Commonwealth was not required “to put on full demonstrations of the validity or invalidity of methods or techniques that have been scrutinized well enough in prior decisions to warrant taking judicial notice of their status.” Id. at 261. Therefore, the court was within its discretion in not granting Williams a full-blown Daubert hearing. And, according to Christie, a court may forego a hearing concerning the admissibility of expert witness testimony “when the record [before it] is complete enough to measure the proffered testimony against the proper standards of reliability and relevance.”