Across the board challenges to the scientific nature and admissibility of firearms and tool mark identification are important leverage tools for the assault attorney in Arizona. Prosecutor bench notes of the firearms and tool marks examiner should always be obtained and scrutinized down to the last detail in every case. In many cases, this evidence can enable an assault attorney to argue that even if firearms and tool mark identifications are not per se inadmissible; the particular identifications in the particular case should be excluded because they do not conform to the standards of the field.
Recent changes in the legal landscape make such challenges by an assault attorney substantially easier. Recent court decisions have taken major steps towards recognizing the inherent scientific problems and excluding firearms and tool marks evidence. The court has recognized in many instances that ballistic examination lacks the rigors of science, suffering from greater uncertainties than other types of criminal investigation. The court has argued that suggesting a ballistics expert can conclusively link a particular bullet to a particular gun with a reasonable degree of certainty directly misleads the jury. Ballistics statements must now conclude the opinion, “more likely than not,” but nothing that suggests anything more certain than that.
In 2008, the National Research Council Committee to Assess the Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics Database provided a report that substantially boosts the defense challenges available to an assault attorney. The committee’s mandate out of necessity precluded it from evaluating the admissibility of firearms identification evidence. Nevertheless, the committee did conclude that there are serious scientific problems in both the underlining premises of firearms and tool mark identification and the methods firearms and tool mark examiners use to make identifications.
One judge even went so far as to note that the “courts have been understandably gun shy about questioning the reliability of firearm identification evidence. Storm clouds, however, are gathering.” It’s this very shadow of doubt that can be of great use to an assault attorney.
What is firearms and tool mark identification?
Firearms identification is often confused with ballistics, which deals with the motions that firearms impart to projectiles. By contrast, tool mark identification aims to identify particular tools, such as a gun barrel or bolt cutter, as the unique source of marks on crime scene evidence, such as a bullet or piece of fence. A subspecies of tool mark identification, firearms identification deals with the tool marks that bullets, cartridge cases and shot-shell components acquire by being fired and that cartridge cases and shot-shells acquire through the action of the firearm.
The question is whether or not it can be determined that only one unique tool produced the marks, or if they could have been produced by a similar tool. This question is of great use to the assault attorney.
As the courts question the credibility of firemarks identification evidence, an assault attorney in Arizona has a good deal of tools at his or her disposal to keep such evidence out of the courtroom. All evidence related to the use of the weapon must be scrutinized for discrepancies. Question the validity of such evidence in court with the latest scientific data. Any doubt that can be inserted into the prosecution’s evidence can greatly help the accused, perhaps resulting in a dismissal of all charges.
About the Author
David Michael Cantor is an AV rated (the highest possible rating) lawyer and a Certified Criminal Law Specialist per the Arizona Board of Legal Specialization. For more information about an Arizona assault attorney, visit our site.