Shoeprint Expert Testimony Satisfied Daubert Reliability Factors

shoe prints

A lack of precision in a shoeprint expert's testimony was not a bar to the expert testimony, in United States v. Ford, 481 F.3d 215 (3d Cir. Mar. 29, 2007) (No. 05-4998)

The Third Circuit reviewed how expert shoeprint testimony comported with the Daubert factors for expert testimony. In the case, defendant Ford was involved with others in robbing two banks. Before trial, the court held a Daubert hearing on the admissibility of expert testimony that three partial shoe-prints from the counters of one of the bank were similar to the type of imprints that would be made by the shoes defendant Ford was wearing when he was arrested.

The district court concluded that “although the latent prints were not complete, ... there is clearly sufficient underlying information to reliably express the careful opinion ... regarding the similarity of characteristics and the inability to rule out based upon any difference.” Ford, 481 F.3d at 219. The defendant’s objection to the expert evidence was denied. The defendant was convicted and sentenced as a career offender. On appeal, the defendant challenged the admission of the shoe print expert testimony as inadmissible under Daubert.

The Third Circuit affirmed the admission of the shoe print expert’s testimony after concluding the Daubert requirements were satisfied. The expert testimony was relevant on “a key factual question in the case: Whether the print on the counter was made by the shoes worn by Ford on the day he was apprehended.” Ford, 481 F.3d at 219. The circuit agreed with the trial court “that the expert shoeprint testimony was based on valid specialized knowledge and would aid the jury in making comparisons between the soles of shoes found on or with the defendant and the imprints of soles found on surfaces at the crime scene.” . at 218. In reviewing the Daubert factors, the circuit noted that the trial court “found that there was general acceptance of shoeprint analysis in both the federal courts and the forensic community, the theory has been subject to peer review and publication, the potential error rate is known, and there are standards and techniques commonly employed in the analysis.” Id. at 218 (footnotes omitted). The circuit noted that “the rate of error in shoeprint identifications has not been firmly established. Id. at 218-19 n.4. The trial court found the error rate was “known” and “quite low.” The defendant did not challenge the error rate on appeal.

The defendant claimed that the expert testimony should not have been admitted since he was “unable to render an opinion more precise than that the shoe impressions from the bank counter and those made by the shoes the defendant was wearing were ‘similar.’” Id. at 220. The lack of precision was not a bar to the expert testimony. The circuit explained, “An expert opinion that expresses a possibility that a crime scene impression may have been made by shoes worn by the defendant, and otherwise comports with the Daubert analysis, is clearly relevant to the question of whether the defendant was present at the scene of the crime.” Id. at 221. In fact, “Because the parties are apt to select experts based on their ability to provide highly favorable testimony, it is preferable that, where there is cause for doubt as to a particular opinion, the experts make clear any uncertainty.” Id. at 221 n.7.

The application of the Daubert reliability factors was also noted in Handwriting Expert Testimony Satisfied Five Daubert Reliability Factors and Fingerprint Expert Testimony Satisfied Daubert Reliability Factors.

Federal Rules of Evidence