Court: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
Case Name: State v. Ingram
Citation: 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 865
The defendant, Dawan Ingram, appealed against an August 9, 2016 conviction judgment for the murder of Najee Montague.
In the evening of September 21, 2013, police officers responded to a disturbance at Salem Street and South Orange Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Upon arriving at the scene, officers found Montague lying on the ground. A friend of Montague’s was inside a bodega just before the shooting. When the friend was trying to help Montague, a bystander either pointed out the gun to the friend dropped by the shooter or handed over the gun to him. Montague’s friend took said gun, hid it in a backyard garage down the street, and did not mention the gun to the police officers at that time. One day after the friend identified the defendant as a shooter, he led Detective Tyrone Crawley to the place where he hid the gun. Two live rounds were also recovered from the gun. These two rounds were consistent with the rounds recovered from the scene of the shooting.
The state called a ballistics expert witness to testify. The expert was a retired police sergeant and firearms examiner with the Newark Police Department Ballistics Laboratory for more than 20 years. During his tenure, the expert evaluated and identified all weapons submitted as evidence. His experience also included conducting microscopic examinations, identifications, and comparisons of discharged projectiles, discharged casings, cartridges, and shotshells.
The expert opined that all the 9 shell casings were identical and concluded that all rounds were fired from the same gun. When the shells were compared to the markings made by the gun recovered, the expert concluded that the bullets were fired from the same gun that Montague’s friend led to the police.
The court rejected the defendant’s arguments that the testimony of the expert relating to the murder weapon should be excluded. The defendant did not take any objection to the testimony of the expert at the time of trial. The court reviewed for plain error.
The defendants argued that the expert’s opinions were subjective and were not backed by reliable, scientific analysis. The defendant sought re-examination of firearm toolmark identification testimony of the expert. The defendant’s main argument was that the expert should not be allowed to testify with certainty that bullets found at the crime scene were from the same gun that was found. The defendant pointed out that the expert had no way to opine that the bullet was not fired from a different but identical gun. The friend had testified that the shooter had dropped the gum he picked it up and later turned over the gun to the police. Therefore, there was little doubt that the expert had examined the gun used in the shooting.
It was determined that the methodology adopted by a firearm expert witness must be backed by scientific analysis in order to be admissible.