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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
court decisions rejecting Daubert challenges.64 Why? First, as noted above, in cases where the evidence is excluded at trial, no appeal will be taken. Second, the scientific methodology supporting many drug tests is sound. This means that, regardless of the standard of review, most decisions by trial courts will withstand scrutiny. Finally, courts of appeals owe great deference to trial court judgments on questions relating to the admission of evidence.65
The importance of the limited standard of review was clearly explained in United States v. Brown:66
Immersed in the case as it unfolds, a district court is more familiar with the procedural and factual details and is in a better position to decide Daubert issues. The rules relating to Daubert issues are not precisely calibrated and must be applied in case-specific evidentiary circumstances that often defy generalization. And we don’t want to denigrate the importance of the trial and encourage appeals of rulings relating to the testimony of expert witnesses. All of this explains why the task of evaluating the reliability of expert testimony is uniquely entrusted to the district court under Daubert, and why we give the district court considerable leeway in the execution of its duty. That is true whether the district court admits or excludes expert testimony. Joiner, 522 U.S. at 141-42 (“A court of appeals applying ‘abuse-of-discretion’ review to [Daubert] rulings may not categorically distinguish between rulings allowing expert testimony and rulings disallowing it.”). And it is true where the Daubert issue is outcome determinative.67
Judicial Dispositions of Questions Relating to Fingerprint Analyses
Over the years, the courts have admitted fingerprint evidence, even though this evidence has “made its way into the courtroom without empirical validation of the underlying theory and/or its particular application.”68 The courts sometimes appear to assume that fingerprint evidence is irrefutable. For example, in United States v. Crisp, the court noted that “[w]hile the principles underlying fingerprint identification have not attained the
See, e.g., United States v. Moreland, 437 F.3d 424, 430-31 (4th Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1142 (2006); United States v. Scalia, 993 F.2d 984, 988-90 (1st Cir. 1993).
See, e.g., United States v. Gaskin, 364 F.3d 438, 460 n.8 (2d Cir. 2004) (holding that “when a party questions whether sound scientific methodology provides a basis for an expert opinion, it may move to preclude the admission of the opinion” under Daubert; however, when a defendant makes no such motion and instead stipulates to the admissibility of the expert opinion, “he cannot complain on appeal that the opinion lacks foundation”).
415 F.3d 1266 (11th Cir. 2005).
Ibid., pp. 1265-66 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks, other internal citations omitted).
M.A. Berger. Procedural paradigms for applying the Daubert test. 78 MINN. L. REV. 1345, 1354 (1994).