May 24, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Police Officer’s Testimony Defining Street Slang for Drug Considered Expert Testimony

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Bryant on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Assault—Expert Testimony—Jury Instructions—MirandaWarning—Voluntary Statements—Evidence.

While high on PCP, defendant assaulted two teenagers. After defendant’s arrest, police officers interviewed him and he admitted that he was under the influence of PCP, which he initially referred to as “sherm.” Defendant told officers that they could retrieve the substance from his sock, which they did. Before trial, defendant filed several motions to suppress. The court denied all of the motions, ruling that defendant’s statements were made voluntarily and that he had validly waived his Miranda rights. Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and two counts of third degree assault.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred by ruling that his statements to the police were voluntary. He argued that the police exploited his intoxicated state during their interrogation. Here, by the time they reached the police station, defendant was calm, coherent, and cooperative. The interview lasted no more than 15 minutes; there was no evidence that defendant’s demeanor changed during the interview; and there was no evidence of psychological coercion. The trial court did not err by finding that defendant’s statements to police were voluntary.

Defendant also contended that his statements should have been suppressed because police failed to obtain a valid waiver of his Miranda rights. Defendant contended that he was so intoxicated and confused when he was advised of his Miranda rights that he did not make a knowing and intelligent waiver of those rights. The record supports the trial court’s finding that defendant was not intoxicated when he waived his Miranda rights. The trial court did not err by finding that defendant validly waived his Miranda rights.

Defendant also contended that the trial court reversibly erred by allowing Officer Fink to testify as a lay witness regarding the meaning of the term “sherm.” This testimony was not based on Officer Fink’s personal knowledge or investigation of defendant’s case, but was based on his training and experience as a police officer. Although the trial court erred by allowing Officer Fink to testify as a lay witness, the error was harmless because the testimony was cumulative of other evidence presented at trial that served to prove the “knowingly” element of the possession charge.

Defendant next contended that the trial court erred by improperly instructing the jury. First, the instruction that voluntary intoxication was not a valid defense to the charged crimes could not have confused the jury, particularly because it was a brief and correct statement of the law. Second, the pattern instruction on mens rea was legally correct and informed the jury to apply a subjective standard rather than on objective standard. There was no error in the manner in which the trial court instructed the jury.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.