Saturday, April 03, 2004

2d Circuit Overturns DEA Agent's Testimony on Meaning of "Watching Somebody's Back"

The Second Circuit has previously said that it can be undesirable for law enforcement officers to offer both fact and expert testimony in the same criminal trial, partly because of the risk of juror confusion about which testimony falls in what category. See United States v. Dukagjini, 326 F.3d 45 (2d Cir. 2002).

If anyone was wondering, it now looks as though the Second Circuit meant what it said in Dukagjini. It has published a new opinion devoting extensive discussion to the "expert" testimony offered by a DEA agent, during what seems to have been a garden-variety drug trial, about the meaning of "watching somebody's back." In a nutshell: the prosecution did not show that this phrase was being used as drug jargon, the agent's "expert" testimony on the issue therefore strayed from his area of legitimate expertise, and these evidentiary missteps were rendered doubly troublesome by the agent's dual role as fact and expert witness, and also by the prosecution's failure to disclose the substance of his contemplated "expert" testimony in pretrial discovery. See United States v. Cruz, No. 02-1458 (2d Cir. Apr. 2, 2004) (Oakes, Meskill, & B.D. Parker, JJ.).
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.