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Criminal Practice – Evidence – Other Wrongs – Complete Story Exception – Lay Testimony – Police Officer – Stolen Items & Blood

Criminal Practice – Evidence – Other Wrongs – Complete Story Exception – Lay Testimony – Police Officer – Stolen Items & Blood

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State v. Howard (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-07-0932, 19 pp.) (Sanford L. Steelman Jr., J.) Appealed from Randolph County Superior Court. (R. Stuart Albright, J.) N.C. App. Click here for the full-text opinion.

Holding: Even though defendant was tried for robbing a hotel guest at gunpoint, evidence of his other activities the same evening – stealing items from a store – was admissible to tell the complete story of the robbery.

We find no error in defendant’s conviction of robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Based upon a receipt found at Amanda Ebert’s apartment and his investigation, Detective Shuler testified that items found in the apartment were bought at Wal-Mart with the victim’s stolen credit card. Since an officer can give lay opinion testimony based on his investigative training, the trial court properly admitted Det. Shuler’s testimony.

The fact that someone had tried to hide the Wal-Mart items was based on Det. Shuler’s rational observation and represented an instantaneous conclusion he reached after observing the location of the merchandise in the apartment.

Det. Shuler also testified that the presence of a series of subtotals on the Wal-Mart receipt could indicate a purchase with a stolen credit card (to make sure the card was not maxed out). This testimony was based on Det. Shuler’s investigative training and background as a police officer, a proper basis for lay opinion testimony.

Where lay opinion testimony is admissible to identify blood or bloodstains, there was no error in the admission of Det. Shuler’s testimony that there was blood present on defendant’s clothing and in the vehicle he had driven.

Det. Shuler testified that a wood panel found in the vehicle matched the broken entry site of Daddy Rabbit, the burgled store. This was an instantaneous conclusion based on the appearance of the broken panel piece and was a proper subject for lay opinion testimony.

The trial court did not err in allowing Det. Shuler to offer lay opinion

Where Det. Shuler observed defendant in custody on the same morning as a store surveillance photo was taken, Det. Shuler had the opportunity to see defendant at a time when his appearance most closely matched his appearance in the surveillance photo. Det. Shuler also located the clothes defendant was wearing at Wal-Mart in Ebert’s apartment, with blood on them. Det. Shuler had more familiarity with defendant’s appearance at the time the photo was taken than the jury could have. The trial court did not err in admitting Det. Shuler’s lay opinion that defendant was the person in the photo.

Had defendant objected to items of evidence (a social security card, Wal-Mart photos, and receipts), the state could have provided the necessary foundation and documentation relating to the “best evidence rule.” Therefore, the trial court did not commit plain error in admitting the items into evidence without full authentication and explanation as to whether or not the state had complied with the “best evidence rule.”

No error.

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