State v. Odom
116 N.J. 65, 560 A.2d 1198 (1989)

  • Jordan, Humphrey, and Vaio were police officers.  They entered Odom’s apartment with a search warrant.  Inside, they found some drugs.  Odom was charged with possession with intent to sell.
  • At trial, the prosecution attempted to introduce testimony from another police officer named Tierney.  The prosecution claimed that he was an expert in drugs.
    • Odom objected, arguing that Tierney was unqualified to testify because his experience was based on hearsay.
  • The Trial Judge found Tierney qualified to testify as an expert witness.
  • Tierney testified that the amount of drugs Odom possessed implied that he intended to sell.  There was too much for just personal use (plus, there was no drug paraphernalia in the apartment for Odom to use).
    • Odom argued that the drugs were for his personal use, and that the police just didn’t find his crack pipes.
  • The Trial Court found Odom guilty of possession with intent to distribute.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.  The prosecution appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Tierney’s opinion was not only unhelpful, but also that it’s probative value was outweighed by its prejudicial effect.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court noted that the opinion of an expert can be admitted in evidence if it relates to a relevant subject that is beyond the understanding of the average person of ordinary experience, education, and knowledge.
      • In this case, most jurors have no idea how much crack the average addict has, compared to how much the average dealer has.
    • The Court found that an expert witness cannot express whether or not they feel a person is guilty, but they can characterize the defendants’ conduct based on the facts in evidence in light of his special knowledge.
      • Tierney didn’t outright say that Odom was guilty of intent to distribute, he only said that in his expert opinion, someone who had that much crack in their house was probably intending on selling it.
      • “An expert opinion that the drugs were held for distribution, even though expressed in words that are similar to the statutory definition of the offense, does not rise to the level of an assertion that the defendant committed the crime charged or is guilty of the statutory offense.”
    • The Court did feel that the question to Tierney could have been phrased better.  They suggested that next time the prosecution:
      • lay a foundation about the facts of the drugs and the role of paraphernalia,
      • ask the expert a hypothetical using the facts established,
      • avoid using the terminology of the Statute in defining what state of mind on which the expert is offering an opinion,
      • not use the defendant’s name in the hypothetical
        • (here the defendant’s name was used but the error was harmless).