Distribution Conviction Reversed For Detective’s Improper Testimony
- December 23, 2015
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Brian Firman was charged with third-degree possession of cocaine (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1)); third-degree possession with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1)) and 5(b)(3)); third-degree distribution (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a) and 5(b)(3)); and third-degree distribution of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school zone (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7). The charges stemmed from a detectives observation of the defendant and 2 other men in what he believed to be a hand to hand drug transaction which, when he approached to speak to them, was terminated abruptly and one of the men was observed to throw something on the ground which proved to be crack cocaine. During the pat-down search that followed, there paraphernalia was located on the persons of the other 2 co-defendants but nothing in the report reflected possession on the part of Firman. At trial, Firman was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 6 years in prison. In State v. Firman, the defendant appealed on the basis that the detective, McDonald, a non-expert, offered testimony exceeding the level permitted from a fact witness through his ample opinions. The defendant failed to object at trial, leaving the NJ Appellate Division to review the matter under the plain error standard of State v. Maloney, 216 N.J. 91 (2013). Under the plain error standard, the Appellate Division would reverse in the event that the testimony of McDonald which crossed the line into expert testimony, which he was not qualified to offer, could have led the jury to a different result than it would have reached without the inappropriate testimony. State v. Atwater, 400 N.J. Super. 319 (App. Div. 2008). The N.J. Appellate Division determined that without the impermissible testimony of the detective, the jury could have reached a different result and that the guilty verdict must be reversed with the matter remanded for a new trial. If you are facing charges for drug distribution or possession, there are multiple components which may affect the ultimate outcome. Drug distribution charges are met with harsh penalties due to the public interest in deterrence and it is critical that you obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to protect you against the charges and penalties. For more information regarding drug distribution, possession and possession with intent to distribute visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.