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Monday, October 12, 2015

FirmanPolice could not testify as expert in drug case. State v. Firman

Police could not testify as expert in drug case. State v. Firman ___NJ Super. ___ (App. Div. 2015) (A5610)

A jury convicted defendant Brian Firman of third-degree possession of cocaine, third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and third-degree distribution of cocaine. Defendant appealed, asserting that a detective’s testimony impermissibly crossed into expert testimony. Only if a police officer is properly qualified as an expert witness may he or she give opinion testimony explaining the implications of observed behaviors that may be beyond the understanding of a juror. In multiple portions of his direct examination, the detective expressed opinions that he was not allowed to make as a fact witness. The state did not dispute defendant's contention that the testimony exceeded its permissible scope. Nonetheless, the state asserts that any error was harmless due to the strength of the evidence against defendant. The appellate panel rejected that contention and reversed and remanded for a new trial, finding that the testimony impermissibly crossed into expert testimony and was capable of producing an unjust result.