Triple Testimony: Expert Witness, Fact Witness, and Lay Opinion

Like most of the rest of the country, I followed the recent confirmation hearings for Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh with great interest.

As the readers of this blog already know, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. Much of her testimony recounted her recollection of that event, but some of her testimony was of a different nature. In addition to telling the Committee what she recalled, Dr. Ford also described the biological and chemical processes of memory itself, such as the way that neurotransmitters encode memories into the hippocampus.

In other words, Dr. Ford testified in dual roles: she was both a fact witness and a de facto expert witness.

Most of us will never participate in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but a similar type of dual testimony can arise in criminal trials in state court, and it raises some interesting issues.

Read more


State v. Osteen:  Court of Appeals Approves Admission of Lay and Expert Opinion Testimony Regarding Drug Impairment

Proving that a driver was impaired by alcohol is not all that difficult, particularly when the driver submits to a breath test and the result is .08 or more.  Proving that a driver was impaired by drugs or by a combination of alcohol and drugs is considerably more challenging. But an opinion released yesterday by the court of appeals demonstrates one way in which it can be done, even without a confirmatory chemical test.

Read more


The Opinion Question: Myth or Magic?

Even the greenest of prosecutors knows to ask it.  And all officers, from rookie to veteran, know how to answer. Rare is the impaired driving case without it. What’s the it? The opinion question, of course. You’ll find the following exchange recorded in many a DWI transcript. Q: Did you form an opinion, satisfactory to … Read more

Lay Opinion about Drug Activity

I came across an interesting out-of-state case today. In State v. McLean, __ A.3d __ (N.J. Mar. 31, 2011), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that an officer who “observed defendant engage in behavior that the officer believed was a [hand-to-hand] narcotics transaction” could testify only about the basic facts that he observed, and … Read more

Significant Fourth Circuit Drug Case

Because our appellate courts often find the Fourth Circuit’s opinions to be persuasive authority, I read all the Fourth Circuit’s published criminal cases. Yesterday, the court decided United States v. Johnson, a drug case involving two noteworthy issues. The short version of the facts is as follows: Officers wiretapped a suspected drug dealer’s phone. The … Read more


The Need for (Evidence of) Speed

A civil case decided by the court of appeals last week, Blackwell v. Hatley, addresses when a witness may testify as to his or her opinion of how fast a vehicle was traveling.  In Blackwell, the court held that an accident report prepared by a town police officer estimating the defendant’s speed at the time … Read more