Government of Virgin Islands v. Knight
989 F.2d 619 (1993)

  • Knight was beating Miller in the head with his gun.  The weapon discharged, killing Miller.
    • Knight admitted beating Miller, but claimed that the gun went off accidentally.
  • At trial, the Trial Judge allowed the defense to present eyewitness testimony that Knight never pointed the gun at Miller, and never threatened to shoot him.  However, the judge did not permit the eyewitness or the investigating police officer from offering their opinions that firing the gun was unintentional.
  • The Trial Court found Knight guilty of voluntary manslaughter.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court found that some of the evidence had been excluded in error.
    • The Appellate Court ruled that the Trial Court had properly excluded the police officer’s testimony because he did not witness the event and did not have personal knowledge.
    • The Appellate Court looked to FRE 701, and found that the eyewitness did have firsthand knowledge as required by FRE 701(a).
    • The Appellate Court found that the eyewitness’ opinion would have been helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’ testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, as required by FRE 701(b).
    • The Appellate Court found that the testimony has been excluded in error, but it didn’t matter because the charge was manslaughter, not murder, so even if it was an accident, Knight was still guilty.
  • Basically, under FRE 701 opinions of lay persons are admissible as long as they:
    • Are rationally based on first hand knowledge,
    • Are helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’ testimony or the determination of a fact at issue, and
    • Do not require scientific or technical knowledge (then they are covered by FRE 702).
    • Are not based upon expertise.
    • Do not speak in legal terminology (such as, “he’s not guilty of premeditated murder.”
    • Are still relevant and helpful, or it might be excluded under FRE 403.