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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Call The Police: Eastern District Of Pennsylvania Finds Testimony From Police Expert Inadmissible Under Rule 704(a)

Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a) states that

Except as provided in subdivision (b), testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.

But while witnesses can embrace ultimate issues in their testimony, they cannot feed ultimate legal conclusions to jurors. And this limitation was a problem for the plaintiff in the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Quagliarello v. Dewees, 2011 WL 2937396 (E.D.Pa. 2011) 

Dewees, arose 
out of an incident that occurred on the morning of January 29, 2009, when Plaintiff Julia Quagliarello ("Plaintiff"), then an 18–year–old student, was driving to Widener University...The Complaint allege[d] that Plaintiff made a left-hand turn from East 22nd Street onto Melrose Avenue and drove approximately four to six blocks when she saw a police vehicle with flashing lights behind her....Plaintiff pulled over her vehicle at the intersection of East 14th Street and Melrose Avenues....Chester Police Officer Joshua Dewees ("Officer Dewees") exited the police vehicle with gun drawn, ordered Plaintiff to get out of the car, and Plaintiff complied. Compl....Officer Dewees forcibly handcuffed Plaintiff and took her to the Chester Police Department, where she was charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and disorderly conduct, and held for three hours....Following a hearing on July 8, 2009 in the Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, all charges against Plaintiff were withdrawn.

Quagliarello thereafter brought an action against Officer Dewees and the City of Chester, alleging violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be secure in one's person; false arrest and false imprisonment; deprivation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights; negligent failure to train and supervise; assault and battery; malicious prosecution; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before trial, the defendants brought a motion in limine, seeking to preclude Quagliarello from presenting certain opinion testimony by a police expert:

These opinions include[d] whether the police had probable cause to stop and arrest Plaintiff, whether the police used unreasonable and unnecessary force, whether Officer Dewees acted in a reasonable or necessary manner, whether the City of Chester was indifferent to Plaintiff, and whether Plaintiff's actions were a "public annoyance." 

In granting the motion, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania concluded that

Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a) provides that, in general, "testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact." "Rule 704 of the Federal Rules of Evidence 'provides that opinion testimony is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided.'"...However, such testimony can be excluded if it is not "otherwise admissible."...As the Rules Advisory Committee explained, "[t]he abolition of the ultimate issue rule does not lower the bars so as to admit all opinions," because the expert testimony must be helpful to the trier of fact and not waste time pursuant to Rules 701, 702, and 403....Collectively these rules of evidence "afford ample assurances against the admission of opinions which would merely tell the jury what result to reach," and require the court to "exclude opinions phrased in terms of inadequately explored legal criteria."...An expert's "opinion on a question of law" is not admissible.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2011/07/704a-quagliarello-v-deweesslip-copy-2011-wl-2937396edpa2011.html

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