State v. Abrams, ___ N.C. App. ___, 789 S.E.2d 863 (Aug. 2, 2016)

In this drug case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting expert testimony identifying the substance at issue as marijuana. At trial, Agent Baxter, a forensic scientist with the N.C. State Crime Lab, testified that she examined the substance, conducted relevant tests, and that the substance was marijuana. The Daubert test requires the court to evaluate qualifications, relevance and reliability. In the instant case, the defendant did not dispute Baxter’s credentials or the relevancy of her testimony; he challenged only its reliability. The court noted that Daubert articulated five factors from a nonexhaustive list that can bear on reliability. Those factors however are part of a flexible inquiry and do not form a definitive checklist or test; the trial court is free to consider other factors that may help assess reliability. Additionally, Rule 702 does not mandate any particular procedural requirements for the trial court when exercising its gatekeeping function over expert testimony. Here, Baxter’s testimony established that she analyzed the substance in accordance with State Lab procedures, providing detailed testimony regarding each step in her process. The court concluded: “Based on her detailed explanation of the systematic procedure she employed to identify the substance …, a procedure adopted by the N.C. Lab specifically to analyze and identify marijuana, her testimony was clearly the ‘product of reliable principles and methods’ sufficient to satisfy … Rule 702(a).” The court went on to reject the defendant’s argument that Baxter’s testimony did not establish that she applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.