U.S. v. Crisp

Decision Date31 March 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-4953.,01-4953.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Patrick Leroy CRISP, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

John A. Dusenbury, Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Douglas Cannon, Assistant United States Attorney, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee.


Louis C. Allen, III, Federal Public Defender, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant. Anna Mills Wagoner, United States Attorney, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before WILKINS, Chief Judge, and MICHAEL and KING, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge KING wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Judge WILKINS joined. Judge MICHAEL wrote a dissenting opinion.


KING, Circuit Judge:

Patrick Leroy Crisp appeals multiple convictions arising from an armed bank robbery carried out in Durham, North Carolina, on June 13, 2001. Crisp maintains that his trial was tainted by the Government's presentation of inadmissible expert testimony. His appeal presents a single question: whether the disciplines of forensic fingerprint analysis and forensic handwriting analysis satisfy the criteria for expert opinion testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). As explained below, the prosecution's fingerprint and handwriting evidence was properly admitted, and we affirm the convictions.


At approximately 12:25 p.m. on June 13, 2001, a lone male, wearing a mask and surgical gloves, and carrying a handgun, entered the Central Carolina Bank in Durham, North Carolina. He approached Joan Adams, a teller, threw a bag on the counter, and instructed her to "fill up the god*mned f* * *ing bag." Adams promptly gave the gunman the sum of $7,854 in cash, which included bait bills and an electronic tracking device. Then, a horn sounded twice from the parking lot outside, and the robber left the bank and made his getaway in a purple Ford Probe automobile.

Shortly thereafter, Durham police officer Michael Britton heard radio traffic stating that a purple Ford Probe was involved in a bank robbery. Driving on Faison Road, he observed a purple Ford Probe parked on the wrong side of the street. Officer Britton immediately secured the vehicle, and he later learned that it had been stolen the previous day.

The next day, June 14, 2001, the authorities received a call on its Crimestoppers telephone line from an individual who claimed to have information about the robbery of the Central Carolina Bank. The caller provided detailed information, and later that day the police met the caller, Michael Mitchell, at a local restaurant. Mitchell informed the officers that Patrick Crisp and Lamont Torain had robbed the bank. He further attested that Crisp and Torain had attempted to recruit him to participate in the robbery, but that he had declined. Mitchell explained that Crisp had detailed the entire robbery plan to him. On the basis of Mitchell's information, the police obtained an arrest warrant for Crisp.

On June 15, 2001, Crisp, while driving a rented Pontiac Grand Am with Mitchell as a passenger, came upon a police license checkpoint. Crisp was unable to produce a valid driver's license, and he advised the officers that his name was Jermaine Jackson. A small amount of marijuana was found in the vehicle. While Crisp was being interviewed, Mitchell informed the police of Crisp's real identity, and the officers promptly learned of the outstanding warrant for Crisp's arrest. Crisp was then taken into custody.

Torain was also arrested, and he was incarcerated in the same jail as Crisp. On June 20, 2001, as he walked past Crisp's cell, a handwritten note (the "Note") was slid out from under Crisp's door. The Note, the last line of which was allegedly crossed out when delivered, stated:


You know if you don't help me I am going to get life in prison, and you ain't going to get nothing. Really it's over for me if you don't change what you told them.

Tell them I picked you up down the street in Kathy's car. Tell them that I don't drive the Probe. Tell them Mike drove the Probe. He is the one that told on us. Tell them the gun and all that shit was Mike's. That is what I am going to tell them tommorow [sic].

Tell the Feds Mike drove you away from the bank.


During the investigation of the robbery, Crisp's girlfriend, Katherine Bell, gave police officers consent to search both her residence in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and her car, a white Ford Escort. The officers found surgical gloves in the vehicle, and in her bedroom they discovered a bullet proof vest and a sawed-off shotgun. In the course of the investigation, the officers obtained palmprints and handwriting exemplars from Crisp.

Both Mitchell and Torain testified against Crisp at Crisp's trial, which was conducted from September 10 through September 13, 2001, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.1 Mitchell testified, inter alia, that on June 11, 2001, Crisp told him he needed to make some quick money and that he planned to rob a bank. Mitchell told the jury that Crisp then took him to the Central Carolina Bank, informed him that he (Crisp) and Lamont Torain were going to rob it, and asked if Mitchell would participate. The following day, Mitchell, Crisp, and Torain discussed the robbery plan in further detail. Crisp showed Mitchell a bullet proof vest, a sawed-off shotgun, an automatic weapon, a mask, and clothing, all of which Crisp and Torain intended to use in the bank robbery. Mitchell further testified that Crisp had shown him the purple Ford Probe. According to Mitchell, the initial plan was that he and Torain would enter the bank, and Crisp would drive the getaway vehicle. The following morning, however, when Torain came to pick up Mitchell for the robbery Mitchell begged off, explaining that he had to babysit his children.

Torain described to the jury a slightly different set of events. He asserted that it was Mitchell and Crisp who planned the robbery, and that, originally, it was he who was to drive the getaway vehicle. According to Torain, when Mitchell refused to participate, the plan changed: Torain entered the bank, while Crisp waited in the getaway car.

At trial, Mary Katherine Brannan, a fingerprint expert with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation ("SBI"), testified that Crisp's right palm had produced a latent print that had subsequently been recovered from the Note. Furthermore, a handwriting expert, Special Agent Thomas Currin, a "questioned document analyst" with the SBI, testified that Crisp had authored the Note.

Crisp presented an alibi defense. His cousin, Cecilia Pointer, claimed that, on the day of the robbery, her husband and Crisp came to her place of employment at approximately 12:30 p.m., and that the two men then left to submit applications at a temporary employment agency. She testified that they stopped back by her work around 1:00 p.m. or 1:15 p.m.

After the four-day jury trial, Crisp was found guilty of bank robbery, bank robbery with a dangerous weapon, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to the bank robbery. On November 27, 2001, he received a sentence of 356 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. His notice of appeal was timely filed on November 27, 2001, and we possess jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.


Fingerprint and handwriting analysis have long been recognized by the courts as sound methods for making reliable identifications. See, e.g., Piquett v. United States, 81 F.2d 75, 81 (7th Cir. 1936) (fingerprints); Robinson v. Mandell, 20 F. Cas. 1027 (D.Mass.1868) (handwriting). Today, however, Crisp challenges the district court's decisions to permit experts in those fields to testify on behalf of the prosecution. The fingerprinting expert, Brannan, gave her opinion that a palm print lifted from the Note was that of Crisp; the handwriting expert, Currin, testified that, in his judgment, the handwriting on the Note matched Crisp's handwriting. We review for abuse of discretion a district court's decision to admit or reject expert testimony. General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 139, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997); see also Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999) ("[T]he trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable.").

The Federal Rules of Evidence provide that "[i]f scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise...." Fed.R.Evid. 702. The Supreme Court has made clear that it is the trial court's duty to play a gatekeeping function in deciding whether to admit expert testimony: "[T]he trial judge must ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993).

In Daubert, the Court announced five factors that may be used in assessing the relevancy and reliability of expert testimony (1) whether the particular scientific theory "can be (and has been) tested"; (2) whether the theory "has been subjected to peer review and publication"; (3) the "known or potential rate of error"; (4) the "existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation"; and (5) whether the technique has achieved "general acceptance" in the relevant scientific or expert community. Id. at 593-94, 113 S.Ct. 2786. Rather than providing a definitive or exhaustive list, Daubert merely...

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