We are seeing time and time again the expert witness standard being loosely applied in state trial courts. The Appellate Courts, in reviewing these cases, are sending a clear message to the trial courts that these errors are prejudicial, affect the outcome of the case and they will award defendants a new trial to right this wrong.
In State of NC v. Torrence No. COA 15-949 (2016), a law enforcement officer was allowed, over defendant’s objection, to testify and give expert opinion without any expert witness qualification. Specifically, the law enforcement officer was allowed to testify about the results of a field sobriety test (HGN) and how these results related to the defendant’s impairment. Further, the officer was allowed to state a numerical estimate of the defendant’s alcohol level based on the defendant’s performance on this test.
In overturning the conviction the Court stated, “in light of the heightened credence juries tend to give scientific evidence, there is a reasonable possibility that had evidence of the HGN tests not been erroneously admitted a different outcome would have been reached at trial.” State v. Torrence No. COA 15-949 (2016)
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