Lay Opinion Testimony of a Police Officer In North Carolina

In State v. Freeman, 185 N.C. App. 408, 648 S.E.2d 876, 881-82 (2007), appeal dismissed, 362 N.C. 178, 657 S.E.2d 663 (Jan. 7, 2008), reconsideration denied, 362 N.C. 178, 657 S.E.2d 666 (Jan. 18, 2008), another panel of the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting lay opinion testimony of a police officer that pills found on defendant were crack cocaine. In that case Police Officer Christopher Miller recovered a pill bottle which the defendant dropped upon being confronted by Officer Miller and other officers. Id. at 410, 648 S.E.2d at 879-80. "Inside the pill bottle, Officer Miller discovered a variety of white pills and believed that two of them were crack cocaine." Id. at 411, 648 S.E.2d at 880. At defendant's trial on the charge of possession of cocaine, Officer Miller was permitted, without objection, to testify that, in his opinion, two of the pills contained in the bottle were crack cocaine. Id. at 415, 648 S.E.2d at 882. In addition, an expert chemist testified "that she analyzed the pills and determined that they were cocaine." Id. As defendant did not object to Officer Miller's testimony, defendant argued on appeal that the trial court committed plain error in allowing Officer Miller to so testify. Id. at 414, 648 S.E.2d at 881. The Court said: Pursuant to Rule 701 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence, "if the witness is not testifying as an expert, his testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is limited to those opinions or inferences which are (a) rationally based on the perception of the witness and (b) helpful to a clear understanding of his testimony or the determination of a fact in issue." N.C. Gen. Stat. 8C-1, Rule 701 (2005). "As long as the lay witness has a basis of personal knowledge for his opinion, the evidence is admissible." State v. Bunch, 104 N.C. App. 106, 110, 408 S.E.2d 191, 194 (1991) (holding that an officer's testimony concerning practices of drug dealers was admissible lay opinion as it was based on personal knowledge and helpful to the jury). Officer Miller testified that two of the pills in the pill bottle seized during defendant's arrest were crack cocaine and that he based his identification of the pills as crack cocaine on his extensive training and experience in the field of narcotics. Officer Miller, who had been with the police department for eight years at the time, testified that he had come into contact with crack cocaine between 500 and 1000 times. As Officer Miller's testimony on this issue was helpful for a clear understanding of his overall testimony and the facts surrounding defendant's arrest, the trial court did not abuse its discretion, much less commit plain error, in permitting Officer Miller to testify as to his opinion that the pills were crack cocaine. Defendant's argument, therefore, is overruled. Id. at 414-415, 648 S.E.2d at 881-82. In its analysis and discussion of the admissibility of Officer Miller's contention, the Court apparently did not consider the testimony of the expert chemist, only Officer Miller's personal knowledge based on his training and experience. Id. at 414, 648 S.E.2d at 881-82.