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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Areas of My Expertise: Eastern District of Louisiana Finds Expert Reports Inadmissible in False Arrest Case

Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a) provides that "[a]n opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue." That said, "[t]his rule does not...permit an expert to render conclusions of law." So, let's say that a plaintiff files a complaint alleging claims of excessive force, false arrest, and state law negligence in connection with his arrest. Can an expert in police procedures testify as to whether he believes that the plaintiff's arrest was based upon probable cause? Let's take a look at the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in Cefalu v. Edwards, 2013 WL 5592947 (E.D.La. 2013).

In Cefalu

On the evening of September 9, 2011, the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office responded to a vehicular accident on a rural highway in which Cefalu's son was involved but not injured. One of the victims of the accident was, however, seriously injured. After Cefalu and other members of his family arrived at the scene, he alleges that Deputy Johnathan Edwards falsely arrested him, though Defendants argue that the arrest was reasonable because Cefalu continually interfered with the officers and other first responders' attempts to manage the scene. Deputy Edwards handcuffed Cefalu and placed him in a police vehicle. After about 45 minutes, Cefalu was released with a citation for interfering with medical personal.

Cefalu thereafter brought the aforementioned action, with the main issue being  the issue of  whether Deputy Edwards had probable cause to Cefalu. Prior to trial, the

plaintiff indicated that Lloyd Grafton, a police procedures expert would testify at trial. Defendants also indicated that they planned to introduce the testimony of a police procedures expert, George Armbruster, Jr.

Both parties submitted expert reports to the judge prior to trial, and the court found that they were both inadmissible under Rule  704(a), concluding that

In the instant matter, the main issue that will be submitted to the jury is both clear and narrow: did Deputy Edwards have probable cause to arrest the plaintiff? This issue ultimately asks the jury to determine whether the officer's actions were reasonable, and a jury does not need the assistance of a police procedures expert to make this determination.Id. (finding that plaintiff's police procedures expert could not testify at a trial where the issues included a claim for false arrest and a violation of the Fourth Amendment). Moreover, allowing competing experts to explain the law would likely muddle the jurors' understanding of the applicable standard, which will be clearly provided to them by the trial judge's reading of the jury instructions. Therefore, because the Court finds the proposed testimony to be unhelpful, potentially confusing, and susceptible to supplanting the role of the factfinder, it must be excluded.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/10/federal-rule-of-evidence-704aprovides-that-an-opinion-is-not-objectionable-just-because-it-embraces-an-ultimate-issue-th.html

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