Gang Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed

Numerous defendants were indicted on various charges, including racketeering conspiracy.  The Government alleges that the defendants were associated with a street gang and hired to experts to help prove their case.

Facts: This case (United States of America v. Brandon Orr, et. al – United States District Court – Middle District of Pennsylvania – October 27th, 2015) involves the alleged gang membership of numerous defendants.  In their indictment, the government alleges that the defendants were associated with the Southside gang, from York Pennsylvania.  In order to assist in proving their case, the government hired two gang expert witnesses,  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent John Havens and York City Police Department (YCPD) Sergeant Larry Lawrence.  The defendants filed a motion to exclude certain pieces of testimony.

In their motion, the defendants argue that 1) the experts are not qualified to offer expert witness testimony on gangs, 2) their testimony is not based on reliable methods and principles, and 3) neither witness formulated his testimony using a definition of a gang to his observations of gang activity in York, Pennsylvania.

Discussion: The court looked at each expert and the specific challenges to each.  It was decided that, based on his experience, training, and leadership positions, John Havens was qualified as an expert witness on gangs.    He has spent his entire career identifying and investigating violent street gangs.   In addition, the third circuit has already found Mr. Havens as an expert in street gangs.  In addition, the court found that the testimony of Mr. Havens was based on reliable factors.  The court stated that his testimony was reliable mostly because they came from an out of court context.   Even though his methodology can’t be peer reviewed (this type of expert analysis does not not lend itself to peer review), Mr. Haven’s experience and other credentials work in favor of reliability. In addition, Mr. Haven’s testimony fits with the case, according to Daubert.  His testimony about gang symbols and identification will assist the jury in the parameters of this case.  In addition, his testimony regarding the origin, growth, and integration of the Bloods gang membership will assist the jury.

However, the court decided that Mr. Haven’s description of the Blood’s initiation rite will not be allowed at trial as it will be more prejudicial than probative. Also, Mr. Havens will not be allowed to testify on any specific individual in the case except for the abstract, not will he be able to opine as to whether an individual is a member of a gang.  Last, he cannot testify on whether the Bloods and the Southside gangs are affiliates.

Regarding the testimony of Larry Lawrence, the court decided that he is qualified to testify regarding local gang activity, but will not be allowed to testify about national gangs or general gang related activity.  Even though he has had training with two separate gang-educational organizations, as he may be offering recitations of what was learned at the conferences that he had attended.

Held:  The motions to exclude testimony of these two expert witnesses was granted in part and denied in part.