May a law enforcement officer who personally investigates, but does not observe, a vehicle crash testify as to his opinion about who was driving the vehicle? Does the answer depend upon whether the officer is qualified as an expert in accident reconstruction? The court of appeals considered those questions in State v. Denton, ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 4, 2019), decided yesterday.
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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.
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Surveillance camera footage of crime scenes often helps law enforcement officers identify an unknown perpetrator. This kind of footage can be equally powerful at trial, convincing jurors that the person depicted in the video is the defendant in the courtroom. There are foundational requirements that the State must satisfy for the display or admission of such evidence, and the state’s appellate courts have reviewed them in a handful of recent cases. Continue reading →