D.C. Court of Appeals Opinion on “Alarming” Presentation of Ballistics

Despite a 2009 policy barring such “absolute” conclusions about ballistics, in the Marlon Williams trial in 2010, a D.C. police analyst testified: “Those markings are unique to that gun and that gun only,” and that gun “fired these three bullets.”  Spenser Hsu of the Washington Post reports that D.C. Court of Appeals judge Catherine Easterly wrote a separate opinion in the case calling the testimony “more than regrettable” and “alarming.” “To uphold the public’s trust, the District of Columbia courts must bar the admission of these certainty statements,” Easterly wrote. “We cannot be complicit in their use.”  Judge Easterly likened such forensic claims to “the vision of a psychic,” a statement of “foundation­less faith in what he believes to be true.”  The trial lawyer did not object to the testimony to preserve the error at the time, however, and the appellate opinions upheld the conviction.

Published by BGarrett

Professor of Law, Duke University

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