Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Challenge to Admissibility of Handwriting Evidence Rejected by D.C. Court of Appeals

In United States v. Pettus No. 08-CF-1361 (Feb. 9, 2012) the District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to the admissibility of handwriting evidence in a criminal trial for felony-murder, sexual assault, and other charges. The court stated:
The principal issue on appeal is whether the trial judge erroneously admitted the expert opinion of an FBI forensic document examiner that a piece of handwriting left on the body of the murder victim had been written by appellant.   Specifically, we must decide whether opinion evidence of this kind based on comparison of “known” and “questioned” handwritings, resulting in the opinion that the same individual wrote both documents, meets the test of “general acceptance of a particular scientific methodology,” Ibn–Tamas v. United States, 407 A.2d 626, 638 (D.C.1979);  see Frye v. United States, 54 App. D.C. 46, 47, 293 F. 1013, 1014 (1923), required by this jurisdiction for the admission of forensic science evidence.   Although appellant, joined by the Public Defender Service as amicus curiae, makes a spirited attack on the general acceptance of all such “pattern-matching” analysis in the light of a recent National Research Council Committee Report, we hold that forensic handwriting comparison and expert opinions based thereon satisfy the bedrock admissibility standard of Frye and Ibn–Tamas and may be put before a jury, where remaining issues of reliability may be argued, after cross-examination and any counter-expert testimony, as affecting the weight of the opinions.
Hat tip to Convicting the Innocent and IfrahLaw


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