Lay Opinion and Harmless Error (Part 3)

by | Nov 22, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Patterson continued in relevant part: The Court reviews N.J.R.E. 701, which governs the admission of lay opinion testimony, and recent decisions in which the Court has applied Rule 701 to an officer’s testimony about a photo or video relating to an offense. In State v. Higgs, the Court barred the lay opinion of a law enforcement officer who was not present at a shooting and testified that an object depicted in a surveillance video appeared to be a firearm. 253 N.J. 333, 365-67 (2023). In Watson, the Court disapproved of portions of an officer’s narration testimony reflecting his subjective belief of what occurred in a video, including observations about alleged efforts by the suspect not to touch surfaces during the robbery. But the Court held that in appropriate circumstances, the testimony of a witness who was not present when a video was recorded may satisfy the evidence rules.

To convict defendant of attempted murder in this case, the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to cause McGhee’s death. It was the jury’s province to decide whether defendant had purposely fired his gun at McGhee or was attempting to dispose of the gun when it accidentally discharged. Most of Campanella’s testimony regarding the surveillance video pertained to the role of the video in the investigation of the crime scene. He explained how he used the video to identify areas that he considered likely to contain evidence relevant to his investigation. That testimony included two categories of admissible evidence: fact testimony from a forensic investigator about the steps he took at the crime scene, and testimony rationally based on the witness’s perception and helpful to the trier of fact. To the extent that the Appellate Division found those portions of Campanella’s testimony to violate N.J.R.E. 701, the Court disagrees.

The defendant was tried before the now retired, Honorable Dennis O’Brien. He received an 18-year prison sentence with 85% parole ineligibility for the attempted murder.