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Crawford v. County of Dauphin

April 4, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure



On March 28, 2003, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County at docket number 2003-CV-1452. Shortly thereafter the matter was removed to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. On October 6, 2005, the court granted defendant City of Harrisburg's motion for summary judgment and denied the other defendants' motions for summary judgment. Upon a motion for reconsideration, on January 19, 2006, the court granted defendant County of Dauphin's motion for summary judgment. The matter is currently scheduled for this court's April 2006 trial list.

On January 9, 2006, plaintiff filed a motion in limine to preclude the expert testimony of blood splatter expert Herbert L. MacDonnell. After the matter was fully briefed, on January 30, 2006, we issued an order directing a Daubert hearing on the admissibility of MacDonnell's testimony before this court. A hearing was held on the afternoon of March 16, 2006.*fn1 After the hearing both parties further briefed the matter and it is now ripe for our decision. For the following reasons we find that MacDonnell's proffered testimony is largely admissible under Daubert. However, we will preclude MacDonnell from testifying about his demonstrative of medium blunt force trauma overlaid onto human prints.



Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. That rule establishes three distinct requirements for the admissibility of expert testimony: (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. Fed. R. Evid. 702; see also Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579, 589-92 (1993). In Daubert, the Supreme Court held that it was the trial court's duty at the outset to act as the gatekeeper for the admissibility of scientific testimony before the jury. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93, 597; see Oddi v. Ford Motor Co., 234 F.3d 136, 144 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999) (extending Daubert to all expert testimony). Thus, when faced with proposed scientific expert testimony the court must determine whether (1) the proposed testimony involves scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact at issue. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592; Oddi, 234 F.3d at 144. The Daubert Court emphasized that the district court's inquiry is to be a flexible one. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594-95. The proponent of expert testimony bears the burden of establishing the reliability and admissibility of the expert's testimony by the preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 593 n.10; Oddi, 234 F.3d at 144.


A. MacDonnell's Expert Qualifications

A court may qualify a witness as an expert based on his knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. Fed. R. Evid. 702. In this case, neither the parties, nor the court, dispute that based on MacDonnell's professional and academic credentials, he qualifies as an expert in bloodstain pattern analysis and latent finger print identification.

B. Reliability of MacDonnell's Proffered

Testimony Rather, it is the second prong, the reliability of MacDonnell's proffered testimony as applied to the facts of this case, that is the subject of the parties' dispute. Daubert sets forth the following general, but not definitive, non-exclusive factors for a court to consider under the reliability prong: (1) whether a theory or technique that is part of the proffered testimony can be or has been scientifically tested, i.e., can a hypothesis be stated that can then be tested to ascertain its falsified; (2) whether the theory or technique has been subject to peer review and publication; (3) in the case of a particular scientific technique is there a known or potential rate of error; and (4) general acceptance in the scientific community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594. In addition to those factors enumerated in Daubert, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit continues to apply a series of factors it enumerated prior to the Daubert decision. Therefore, a district court in the Third Circuit should consider these factors:

Thus, the factors Daubert and Downing have already deemed important include: (1) whether a method consists of a testable hypothesis; (2) whether the method has been subject to peer review; (3) the known or potential rate of error; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation; (5) whether the method is generally accepted; (6) the relationship of the technique to methods which have been established to be reliable; (7) the qualifications ...

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