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.
Tag Archives: Rule 702
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.
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.
The court of appeals held yesterday in State v. Fincher, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (2018), that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it permitted a drug recognition expert to testify in a DWI trial that the defendant was under the influence of a central nervous system depressant. The defendant argued that the State failed to lay a sufficient foundation to establish the reliability of the drug recognition examination, but the court determined that no such foundation was required as the General Assembly had legislatively sanctioned the admission of this type of evidence under Rule 702(a1)(2).
Two of last week’s opinions from the North Carolina Supreme Court address significant legal issues arising in impaired driving cases. In State v. Godwin, the supreme court reversed the court of appeals, holding that the trial court was not required to explicitly recognize a law enforcement officer as an expert witness before the officer could testify to the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. In State v. Romano, the supreme court upheld the court of appeals’ determination that the withdrawal of blood from an unconscious impaired driving defendant violated the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a state statute authorizing this practice. Continue reading →
Here’s a question that arose during a recent class: Suppose that a party in a criminal case seeks to introduce forensic evidence from a discipline of questionable validity, such as bite mark analysis. The lawyer on the other side isn’t aware that the technique has been the subject of scientific criticism and doesn’t object. Must the trial judge nonetheless assess the reliability of the proposed testimony before admitting it? Continue reading →
I wrote in September 2015 that the court of appeals’ view of the admissibility of retrograde extrapolation under Daubert did not look much different from its take on the admissibility of that evidence under old Rule 702. As of yesterday, it does. The court of appeals in State v. Babich, __ N.C. App. __ (2017), changed the green light for retrograde extrapolation testimony in DWI cases to yellow. Continue reading →
True or False: An officer does not have to be qualified as an expert to testify about horizontal gaze nystagmus in a hearing on a motion to suppress in an impaired driving case.
The question I am most frequently asked these days is some version of the following:
May a law enforcement officer trained in administering the HGN test testify at trial about a defendant’s performance on the test if no other expert testifies about the relationship between nystagmus and impairment by alcohol?
While the answer obviously is either yes or no, there is more than one way to analyze the issue. Since today is Thursday, I’m going to throw it back to Bob Barker and the Price is Right and give you two showcases to consider. Continue reading →
The North Carolina Supreme Court held in State v. McGrady, __ N.C.___ (June 10, 2016), that Rule 702(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence incorporates the standard set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). That’s what the court of appeals had already said, so it isn’t a big surprise. In McGrady, the application of Daubert led the state supreme court to conclude that the trial court did not err in excluding testimony from an expert in law enforcement training about the defendant’s conscious and unconscious responses to a perceived threat from the victim. McGrady’s analysis opens the door for reconsidering the admissibility of many types of expert testimony previously admitted as a matter of course, including expert testimony from law enforcement experts involving scientific and medical principles. Continue reading →
There seem to be fewer and fewer reported decisions about criminal discovery in North Carolina. A recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision finding a discovery violation by the prosecution, State v. Davis (Apr. 15, 2016), made me wonder why. This post reviews the evolution of North Carolina’s criminal discovery laws, which has brought relative calm to this area of law, along with the decision in Davis, which deals with a recurring issue about disclosure of expert opinion. Continue reading →