In the recent case of Smith v. State, decided on September 19, 2017, the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s decision to allow a police officer investigating this case to testify as an “expert” in interviewing witnesses to a crime.
Under Georgia Evidence law, in criminal cases, the opinion of experts on any question of science, skill, trade or like question is admissible. “Expert opinion testimony on issues to be decided by a jury, even the ultimate issue, is admissible where the conclusion of the expert is one in which jurors would not ordinarily be able to draw for themselves. i.e., the conclusion is beyond the ken of the average layman.”
In Smith, one of the police officers who initially responded to the victims’ report of the robbery testified that he had been involved in “dozens upon dozens” of such cases, at which point, the State’s prosecutor asked: “Okay, what do you typically expect out of eyewitnesses to some sort of crime? Would you talk to us a bit about that?” Smith’s counsel objected, arguing that the officer was not an expert in this area and that he would have to be an expert in order to respond to that type of question. The trial court then asked the State to provide a foundation for the officer’s expertise, and thereafter, the officer testified that he had eleven years of experience with the police department; had taken the basic POST mandates and “dozens and dozens” of other classes, including courses pertaining to interviewing and interrogating. The officer also reiterated that he had significant experience investigating crimes such as the one at issue and had testified on multiple occasions regarding such investigations.
Following this testimony, the State’s prosecutor moved for the officer to be accepted “[a]s an expert in basically the field of investigations, being able to talk to witnesses and have an opinion about what you’re looking for and what you’d expect when you talk to witnesses.” Smith’s counsel, again, objected, arguing that the State had not laid the proper foundation. But the trial court disagreed and overruled the objection.
Afterwards, the officer basically testified that, per his training, he found that, when you had multiple witnesses such as in this case, there were always inconsistencies and the truth was “somewhere in between.”
Now how this testimony was “beyond the ken of the average layman” such that it made this officer an expert is beyond me, but the truth is that generally speaking, jurors tend to give more weight to the testimony of an expert as opposed to a non- expert. So even though the officer did not attempt to “bolster” his evidence by testifying as an expert, the result was in fact that his “expertness” probably did bolster his credibility with the jury.
In light of Smith, I now offer my services as an expert with 37 years experience in:
- Jury Trials From Start to Finish
- Juror selection
- Truthfulness of police and government witnesses
- Field Sobriety tests
- Intox tests
- The U.S. Constitution
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And any other criminal/trial strategy or procedure. Call me if you are looking for an “expert”!