Testimony Analyzing Historical Cell Site Data Is Scientific In Nature and Subject To Rule 702(b), Ala. R. Evid.


Ex parte George; Ex parte Watson, [Ms. 1190490; 1190498, Jan. 8, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). On certiorari review, the Supreme Court reverses the Court of Criminal Appeals’ affirmance of felony murder convictions and explains

In accordance with the vast majority of courts throughout the nation, … testimony analyzing the historical cell-site data at issue in these cases was scientific testimony. In Carmichael, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “a scientific expert is an expert who relies on the application of scientific principles, rather than on skill- or experience-based observation, for the basis of his opinion.” Carmichael [v. Samyang Tire, Inc.,]131 F.3d 1433, 1435 [(11th Cir. 1997)]. Duncan [the State’s expert] offered opinion testimony on matters concerning cellular technology that went beyond simply presenting the call-detail records of Watson’s and George’s cellular telephones. Duncan’s testimony was not based on “skill- or experience-based observation,” id., but, rather, as explained by Schenk and the extensive authority set out in Johnson, supra, was based, at least in part, on scientific principles. This conclusion is further supported by the fact that Duncan testified that “she had learned generally how cellular signals connect to cellular towers when calls are placed on a cellular device.” Duncan’s testimony applied scientific principles to determine the location of Watson and George at the time of Payne’s murder. We conclude, based on the above-summarized evidence and authority, that such testimony involves the application of scientific principles; Duncan’s testimony was based on more than her training and observations.

Ms. **51-52 (internal citation omitted).

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