State v. Parks, ___ N.C. App. ___, 828 S.E.2d 719 (May. 21, 2019)

In this murder case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing two forensic pathologists to testify to expert opinions regarding the amount of blood discovered in the defendant’s house. Essentially, the experts testified that the significant amount of blood at the scene suggested that the victim would have required medical attention very quickly. The defendant argued that the trial court’s ruling was improper under Rule 702, specifically, that reliability had not been established. The three-pronged reliability test under Rule 702 requires that the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and that the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. Here, the pathologists’ testimony was based on photographs of the crime scene, SBI lab results, and discussions with detectives. They testified that it was routine in the field of forensic pathology to rely on such data and information from other sources and that they use photographs a couple hundred times each year to form medical opinions. They testified that it was less common for them to actually go to a crime scene. They explained how they compare the data and observations with what they have experienced at other crime scenes to form an opinion. Both testified that it was common in the field to form opinions based on comparisons with other cases and acknowledged that they deal with blood loss and render opinions as to cause of death on a daily basis. Testimony was given that it was a normal part of forensic pathology to determine if someone has died or needed medical attention as a result of blood loss. Both testified that they have been involved in hundreds of cases where they had to look at crime scene photographs of blood and a body to which they could compare the data and observations in this case. Based on their experience, they responded to the trial court’s inquiry that they were able to testify that the amount of blood in this case would be consistent with the person who would need immediate medical attention. The trial court properly determined that the pathologists’ testimony was based on sufficient facts or data, was the product of reliable principles and methods, and that they reliably applied those principles and methods to this case.