Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Forensic Witnesses Upheld in 7th, 8th Circuits

Forensic witnesses again prevailed in a pair of appellate decisions announced yesterday.

In Buie v. McAdory, No. 02-3565 (7th Cir. Aug. 25, 2003) (Easterbook, Rovner & Wood, JJ.), a habeas petitioner argued that the state trial judge abridged his due process rights in permitting a forensic expert to testify that hair samples matched "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty." According to petitioner, the witness overstated the degree of scientific support for her conclusion. The Seventh Circuit rebuffed this argument. The Constitution, said Judge Easterbrook in the panel opinion, does not require that prosecution experts be correct, nor does it impose Fed. R. Evid. 702 on state trial courts. It requires only that the defendant have an opportunity to cross-examine and present contrary evidence. A summary of the ruling in Buie, and a link to the opinion, can be found here.

And in United States v. Collins, No. 02-3353 (8th Cir. Aug. 25, 2003) (Loken, Riley & Smith, JJ.), the Eighth Circuit found no plain error in the trial court's admission of fingerprint evidence. See the details here.
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.