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The United States Supreme Court has suggested some factors, which are not necessarily exhaustive, that will be helpful to the trial courts in determining whether proposed expert testimony is based on reliable methods and principles: (1) whether the particular theory can be and has been tested; (2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) the known or potential rate of error; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation; and (5) whether the technique has achieved general acceptance in the relevant scientific or expert community. Those factors do not constitute a definitive checklist or test. The gatekeeping inquiry must be tied to the facts of a particular case. The factors may or may not be pertinent in assessing reliability, depending on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and the subject of his testimony. Daubert was limited to scientific evidence. In Kumho Tire, the Court held that the district courts' gatekeeping obligation as described in Daubert applies to all expert testimony and that in performing that function in particular cases, the district courts may consider the specific Daubert factors to the extent relevant. The Court noted that no clear line divides scientific and technical or other specialized knowledge, all of which are treated together under Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Robert Abdul Baines was convicted on five counts: conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute; possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony; and possession of ammunition after former conviction of a felony. He was sentenced to a total of 123 months of imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay immediately a special fee assessment of five hundred dollars. The sole issue Baines raised in the appeal was the admissibility at trial of fingerprint analysis as expert testimony.
Did the district court properly fulfill its duty, as established in Daubert to ensure that expert testimony rests on a reliable foundation and was relevant to the task at hand?
The appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the government to present expert evidence that a thumb print found on some of the contraband recovered by the authorities was a match to defendant's print because: (1) the core proposition, that reliable identifications may be made from comparison of latent prints with known prints, was testable; (2) the evidence of the error rate of one per every 11 million cases strongly supported the judge's decision to admit the expert testimony; and (3) fingerprint analysis has gained overwhelming acceptance by experts in the field. Therefore, on the whole, the record supported the district judge's finding that fingerprint analysis was sufficiently reliable to be admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 702.