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U.S. Judge Finds Document Examination Expert Witness Failed to Demonstrate Reliability in Bank Robbery Case

Kristin Casler

Written by
— Updated on February 23, 2017

Document Examination Expert Witness handwritingCase:

United States v. Christopher McDaniels, No. 12–393–01, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; June 11, 2014


Defendant Christopher McDaniels pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery. At his sentencing hearing, the government asserted that McDaniels committed five additional bank robberies, and that this uncharged criminal conduct justified an upward departure at sentencing.

Document Examination Expert Witness:

At the sentencing hearing, the government presented testimony from Lorie Gottesman, a document examination expert witness and handwriting analysis expert. Gottesman examined demand notes presented by the robber during the other robberies. She compared the notes with the defendant’s sample handwriting.

Gottesman used the “ACE–V methodology,” — Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation and Verification. She illustrated specific characteristics in each of the six question documents that also appeared in some of the known exemplars. Gottesman noted two to three characteristics that appeared both in the question document and known writing samples from the defendant. She opined to a reasonable degree of certainty that the defendant wrote the demand notes.

McDaniels moved to strike the testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals (509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 [1993]) and Federal Rule of Evidence 702. He argued that Gottesman failed to demonstrate that her testimony is “the product of sound scientific methodology derived from the scientific method.”

Admissibility of Document Examination Expert Witness:

U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found there was no clear evidence that Gottesman actually complied with Steps 2 through 4 of the ACE-V methodology in preparing her report and testimony. Consequently, she failed to provide evidence that she comprehensively compared the characteristics shared and not shared between each set of known and questioned documents, the judge said. Only a few similarities between each pair are listed in the testimony, and no differences are listed.

She also did not demonstrate how she conducted the balancing of identifiable characteristics shared and not shared between the known writing sample and each questioned document, the judge said. In addition, she did not provide any evidence in her testimony or expert report of how the requirements of the verification step were met, the judge said.

“The Third Circuit has held handwriting analysis and the ACE–V methodology to be generally reliable and scientifically sound, as required under Rule 702 and Daubert,” the judge said. “Ms. Gottesman, however, fails to provide evidence that her expert opinion in this case derived from a proper application of the ACE–V methodology, rather than reliance on specific similarities between “known” and “question” documents.”

Thus, the judge found the testimony unreliable and inadmissible.

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