The Maryland Supreme Court granted a new trial after deciding that a firearms examiner should not have been permitted to offer an unqualified opinion that the crime scene bullets were fired from the defendant’s gun. Specifically, the reports, studies, and testimony relied on by the examiner did not demonstrate that the firearms identification methodology employed in the case could reliably support an unqualified conclusion that the bullets were fired from a particular firearm. Moreover, admission of the examiner’s testimony was not harmless error because, absent that evidence, the guilty verdict rested upon circumstantial evidence of a dispute between defendant and the victim, a witness who heard gunfire around the time of the dispute, a firearm recovered from the residence, and testimony of a jailhouse informant.
Ballistics evidence can still be used to narrow down what category, brand, or model of gun may have been used in a crime, but it can’t be used anymore to link a shooting to one specific gun, according to the opinion. An important issue regarding the reliability is reproducibility. A study called Ames 2, found that when they tried to reproduce the opinions of one examiner versus another examiner, they found that over 50% of the time, the second examiner came to a different conclusion on the same evidence than the first examiner.
Read the entire full opinion here.