Florida Appeals Court Addresses What Non-Expert Witnesses Can Testify About

Criminal courts have very specific rules around what kind of evidence can and cannot be admitted at trial. This includes the kind of things that different witnesses can testify about. Your knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you understand how these rules can apply in your situation.

Expert vs. Lay Witnesses

Generally, there are two kinds of witnesses that may testify at trial: lay and expert witnesses. Obviously, expert witnesses are people who have some kind of specialized knowledge or expertise in an area. For example, in an arson case a fire expert may be able to testify as to how fires spread when accelerant is used. Whereas a lay witness is supposed to testify about things that they experienced themselves, rather than things they know. So if someone witnessed the defendant running away from the scene of the crime, they may testify about that but not about anything that requires expertise. If a lay witness testifies about something that requires expertise, the attorney for the other side can object to the testimony.

The defendant in this case is alleging that his attorney was ineffective because he failed to object to a witnesses testimony. The defendant believes that the witness was testifying about a matter that was out of the scope of what a lay witness should be able to testify to. In this case, the witness was a K-9 handler police officer. While of course police have certain areas of special knowledge, they are considered lay witnesses, although there are certain matters they can testify to that most law people cannot. Certain terms for drugs or other criminal activities serve as examples of this.

He testified about the capabilities of the dog that he works with. Specifically, he said that the dog is able to smell the body odor of someone who is anxious or nervous such as a fleeing suspect. The officer said that he can tell when the dog is indicating that a person has been fleeing as opposed to someone who has been sedentary.

Appeals Court Holding

The defendant alleges that his attorney was ineffective because he did not object to the police officer’s testimony about his dog’s ability to tell the difference between fleeing and calm subjects. The appeals court explained that under Florida law, lay witnesses are allowed to use inferences or opinions when they are necessary for the witness to explain what they perceived and it does not mislead or prejudice anyone. The opinion or inference must also be about something that doesn’t require specialized training or experience.

Here, the appeals court held that the testimony was proper lay witness testimony. They explained that the officer could not have testified about what the dog was doing without giving his opinion of the dog’s abilities and training. They also noted that they do not believe that the defendant suffered any prejudice by this testimony being admitted. Therefore, the defendant’s attorney was sufficient because any objection to this testimony would have properly been overruled. For this reason, the appeals court upheld the conviction.

Contact an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

The laws around what evidence is and is not allowed are very specific and defendants need a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney on their side.  The experienced Tampa criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm understand these rules and will make sure that the court follows them. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our skilled attorneys about your case.

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