The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Avitia-Guillen on Wednesday, June 6, 2012.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Petitioner, a citizen of Mexico, “lawfully entered the United States in 1955. He obtained permanent resident status in 1988 but was deported in June 1996 after being convicted of an aggravated felony. Immigration and Customs Enforcement discovered [Petitioner] in Denver, Colorado, in May 2011. A grand jury indicted [Petitioner] with one count of being found in the United States after deportation . . . . At trial, the Government called a fingerprint examiner with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) . . . to testify that [Petitioner]’s fingerprints matched those on his 1996 deportation records.” Petitioner’s counsel objected to [the witness'] qualifications, but the district court overruled him. After being found guilty, Petitioner argued on appeal that the district court failed to make adequate findings of reliability with respect to the expert’s testimony.
On appeal, Petitioner did not renew his objection to the witness’ qualifications as an expert witness, and he did not challenge the scientific reliability of fingerprint identification. Instead, he argued the district court erred “by failing to create an adequate record demonstrating that it satisfied its gatekeeping obligations.” The Court determined that to “adequately demonstrate by specific findings on the record that [the district court] has performed its duty as gatekeeper,” a court must make at least “some kind of reliability determination. . . . The key inquiry is whether the appellate court can determine whether the district court ‘properly applied the relevant law.’ . . . The district court gave ample evidence it was applying the Rule 702 standard. The court said [the expert] was qualified to testify as a fingerprint examiner based on her ‘training, education, background and experience.’ . . . So the record is sufficient to demonstrate the district court applied the relevant law. . . . . These findings adequately demonstrate the district court did, in fact, ‘perform its duty as gatekeeper.’”