Thursday, June 29, 2006

AD4 restricts police officer "expert" testimony

People v Dixon, 815 NYS2d 848 [available here]

Jeremy Dixon was arrested for selling drugs when a narcotics officer saw him exchange an unidentified object for another unidentified object in a drug prone neighborhood. When searched, $52 was found in Mr. Dixon's pocket. At trial, the arresting officer gave his "expert" opinion that the possession of $52 is consistent with an intent to sell drugs. The officer also repeatedly characterized the observed exchange as a "hand-to-hand drug transaction". The Fourth Department found error on both scores (albeit briefly): "We agree with defendant, however, that the court erred in admitting the opinion tesitmony of a police officer that a hand-to-hand drug transaction had occurred and that defendant's possession of $52 was consistent with the sale of drugs." (Dixon, 815 NYS2d at 848.) Nothing too earth shattering here, but it is nice to see the Fourth Department set some limits on this type of "expert" cop testimony.

The more interesting issue on appeal was whether an exchange of one unidentified object for another unidentified object in a drug-prone neighborhood was sufficient to support probable cause for arrest. The Fourth Department rejected appellant's argument that something more was required, but did so without any analysis. (Dixon, 815 NYS2d at 848.)