Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Alabama Upholds Testimony on Duct-Tape Matching

From Edward Still, our Alabama correspondent, comes news of the first known decision on the admissibility of testimony on duct-tape matching. From the opinion by Alabama's Court of Criminal Appeals:

Deardorff next argues that Richard Dale Carter, the State's forensic expert, was erroneously permitted to testify that the duct tape recovered from the victim's body matched the roll of duct tape recovered from the warehouse unit Deardorff had rented from Turner. He acknowledges that defense counsel made no objection at trial to Carter's testimony. We review the claim for plain error, and we find none.

Carter testified as to his academic credentials and the course work he had completed at the FBI academy schools. He stated that his area of specialty is firearm and toolmark examination. After he testified about the results of his comparison of the bullets and the revolver he received in this case, he testified that he compared the duct tape found on the victim's jacket and the pillowcase to the roll of duct tape that was recovered from Deardorff's warehouse unit. Carter explained the manufacturing process involved in making rolls of duct tape and he testified in detail about the manufacturing marks that remain on the tape. Carter stated that, in his opinion, the tape recovered from the crime scene and the roll of duct tape recovered from Deardorff's warehouse unit were all made on the same machine during the same four- to six-month period.

. . . .

Carter's testimony established that he had received on-the-job training with the forensic sciences departmental director when he began his career, that he had been working as a forensic scientist for more than 30 years, and that he had completed numerous post-graduate training seminars. The proper predicate for Carter's expert testimony regarding the duct-tape comparison was laid, and the trial court did not abuse its broad discretion when it permitted Carter to testify. No plain error occurred as a result of Carter's testimony, and Deardorff is not entitled to any relief on this claim.
See Deardorff v. Alabama, No. CR-01-0794 (Ala. Ct. Crim. App. June 25, 2004).


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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.