Forensic Engineering Expert Witness Allowed In Part

Government indicted defendant involving his alleged retaliation against an informant and discharge of a firearm.  Defendant hired a Forensic Engineering Expert Witness to provide expert witness testimony, which was challenged by th government.  The court denied the motion to exclude in part and granted the motion in part.

Facts: This case (United States v. Harris – United States District Court – Eastern District of Wisconsin – October 3rd, 2018) involves a claim of retaliation against an informant and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.  The government claims that the defendant fired a shot that hit the government informant’s rear driver’s side door.  The defendant asserts that he only fired a warning shot and that the damage to the car is due to blunt force, not a bullet.  The defendant hired Dr. Stephen Batzer (Forensic Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony on his behalf.  The government has filed a motion to exclude Dr. Batzer from testifying.

Discussion:  The defendant offers Dr. Batzer’s testimony in four areas: —firearm ballistics analysis, trace element testing, indentation shape analysis, and witness credibility.

Dr. Batzer opines that the indentation in the car was not caused by a bullet discharged by a pistol held by a man standing behind the rear of the vehicle.  Dr. Batzer came to this conclusion by looking at two photographs provided to him by the FBI.  In addition, he used a silhouette of the car and performed numerous measurements on the vehicle.  The government challenges Dr. Bazter’s qualifications to offer a ballistics opinion and the methodology he used to come to his opinion.  The government alleges that Dr. Batzer’s educational and professional experience is in mechanical engineering and creditworthiness of vehicles.

Dr. Batzer also testified that he has experience in reconstructing shooting accidents and that he has experience looking at mechanisms in firearms as he has his Ph.D in mechanical engineering and through his time in the military.  In addition, Dr. Batzer stated that while he has never previously testified in court about bullet strikes, he has testified regarding bullet trajectory.  The court opines that based on his experiences, Dr. Bazter is qualified to testify about the specific opinion that he is offering.

The government also challenges Dr. Batzer’s methodology in reconstructing the alleged shooting scene.  The court notes that the issue is not with Dr. Batzer’s methodology, but a dispute of fact between the parties, which is best discussed during cross-examination.

The court will exclude the Dr. Batzer’s opinions on the credibility of the fact witnesses.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Stephen Batzer is granted in part and denied in part.