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UNITED STATES v. WILLIAMS

December 20, 1977

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ISIAH WILLIAMS, a/k/a "Biggie", and MICHAEL MANNING, a/k/a/ "Red", and JOHN DOE, a/k/a/ Omar, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

MEMORANDUM ORDER

 VINCENT L. BRODERICK, U.S.D.J.

 On June 3, 1977, the government filed an indictment charging defendants Williams and Manning with violations of the federal narcotics laws. Specifically, defendants were charged with a conspiracy to violate the federal narcotics laws in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 (1972), and with possession and distribution of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (1972). A superseding indictment, charging defendants with the same offenses, was filed November 30, 1977.

 In support of its case against defendant Williams, the government announced its intention to offer in evidence a tape recording of a telephone conversation allegedly between defendant Williams and a police officer; a voice exemplar furnished by defendant Williams; testimony of an expert witness who has compared the voices on the original tape and the exemplar; and spectrograms used by the expert in making his comparison.

 Defendant Williams opposed the admissibility of this evidence on the ground that sound spectrography is not a reliable scientific method.

 A pre-trial hearing was held to determine the admissibility of the proffered evidence, at the conclusion of which I ruled that the expert testimony and the spectrograms would be admitted. This memorandum sets forth the factual and legal bases for that determination.

 The standard for admission of a scientific method is whether the technique "enjoys general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs." Frye v. United States, 54 App. D.C. 46, 293 F. 1013 (1923).

 
It is the judge's responsibility to initially assess whether there is a sufficient degree of general scientific acceptability to warrant admission of the evidence. United States v. Stifel, 433 F.2d 431, 438 (6th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 994, 91 S. Ct. 1232, 28 L. Ed. 2d 531 (1971). Once a judge concludes that expert testimony is to be permitted, the jury is entitled to review the evidence and accord it such weight as the jury feels is warranted. Feguer v. United States, 302 F.2d 214, 242 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 371 U.S. 872, 83 S. Ct. 123, 9 L. Ed. 2d 110 (1962).

 United States v. Alexander, 526 F.2d 161, 163-64 (8th Cir. 1975).

 The standard for admission of expert testimony enunciated in Frye v. United States, supra, has been applied in cases involving the admissibility of spectrographic voice identification.

 The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was presented with the issue of the admissibility of spectrographic voice identification as evidence in a criminal case in 1974. United States v. Addison, 162 U.S. App. D.C. 199, 498 F.2d 741 (1974). After reviewing the testimony presented to the District Court, the Court of Appeals reversed the finding of the lower court and held the evidence inadmissible on the ground that general acceptance of the scientific community with respect to spectrographic identification had not yet reached the level called for by Frye :

 
[While] portions of the record suggest that spectrogram analysis may become a useful tool for the resolution of questions of criminal liability, it is equally clear that techniques of speaker identification by spectrogram comparison have not attained the general acceptance of the scientific community to the degree required in this jurisdiction by Frye. Whatever its promise may be for the future, voiceprint identification is not now sufficiently accepted by the scientific community as a whole to form a basis for a jury's determination of guilt or innocence.
 
Id. at 745.

 In 1975 the admissibility of spectrographic voice identification was sustained by the Courts of Appeals for ...


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