State v. McPhaul, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 294 (Nov. 7, 2017)

In this attempted murder and robbery case, the court applied the new Daubert test for expert testimony and held that trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State’s expert witness to testify that latent fingerprints found on the victim’s truck and on evidence seized during a home search matched the defendant’s known fingerprint impressions. The court held that the witness’s testimony failed to satisfy Rule 702(a)(3). To meet the requirements of the rule, an expert witness must be able to explain not only the abstract methodology underlying the opinion, but also that the witness reliably applied that methodology to the facts of the case. Here, the witness testified that during an examination, she compares the pattern type and minutia points of the latent print and known impressions until she is satisfied that there are “sufficient characteristics in sequence of the similarities” to conclude that the prints match. However, she provided no such detail in testifying about how she arrived at her actual conclusions in this case. The court concluded: without further explanation for her conclusions, the expert implicitly asked the jury to accept her expert opinion that the prints matched. Since she failed to demonstrate that she applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case as required by Rule 702(a)(3) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting this testimony. The court went on to find that the error was not prejudicial.