Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Part

Plaintiffs indicted defendant related to a mass shooting in Las Vegas.  The Government hired a Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court denied the motion in part and granted it in part.

Facts:  This case (United States v. Haig – United States District Court – District of Nevada – August 6th) involves the mass shooting in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at a music festival.  Paddock killed fifty-eight people and injured 869.  This case involves an indictment of the defendant Douglas Haig, who is being charged with one count of engaging in the business of manufacturing ammunition without a license.  The Government has hired Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness Erich Smith.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mr. Smith.

Discussion:  The defendant requests that the court exclude Smith’s expert witness testimony on forensic toolmark evidence because his methods have not achieved general acceptance in the relevant community.  In addition, the defendant alternatively requests that the judge conduct a Daubert hearing in determining whether Smith’s testimony is admissible.

The court first notes that Smith is a physician with a master’s degree in forensic science.  In addition, the court states that Smith has twenty years of experience in the field of firearms/toolmarks identification.  The government has hired Smith to provide testimony about the process of reloading ammunition, the identification of ammunition, the identification of toolmarks on ammunition, and his opinions about the ammunition in the current case.

The court opines that Smith’s testimony relevant to determine whether the defendant manufactured the ammunition that Paddock used.  In addition, the defendant’s argument that Smith’s methods are not reliable and not generally accepted in the community is not correct.  The court opines that Smith’s anticipated testimony falls within the type of evidence which the Ninth Circuit has previously considered.  Thus, his methods are reliable and his testimony is admissible.

The defendant has noted that a Ninth Circuit case has held that “scientific certainty” is not a proper characterization of expert conclusions based on toolmark identification methods.  The court notes that the government understands this and states that Smith will not provide such testimony.  The court however, the court opines that Smith is excluded from testifying that he reached his conclusions with scientific certainty or other similar standards of reasonable certainty.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness opinions of Erich Smith is granted in part and denied in part.