Can a Police Officer Tell the Jury I’m Lying Based on My Body Language?
In many Florida criminal cases, a police officer serves as a key witness for the prosecution. There’s good reason for this. Prosecutors know jurors are often deferential to the testimony of a police officer, which makes a conviction more likely.
But it is important to remember that the police are not infallible. Nor are they subject-matter experts on every aspect of criminal investigations. This is precisely why Florida courts restrict the admission of opinions to qualified “experts.” An officer can testify as to what he or she saw, but that does mean they are automatically entitled to give their opinion in open court as to the defendant’s guilt or demeanor.
Appeals Court Overturns Broward Battery Conviction
The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently emphasized this important limit on police testimony in criminal matters. The Court overturned an aggravated battery conviction after the prosecution then solicited–then emphasized–a police officer’s opinion regarding the credibility of the defendant’s post-arrest statements.
This case was the result of a fight outside a Broward County convenience store. The defendant and another man–the accuser–were arguing about money. Based on the store’s surveillance video, it appeared the defendant “threw the first punch.” Thereafter, the two men continued to fight outside of the camera’s view. During this time, the accuser said the defendant “pulled out a razor blade and started cutting him with it.” The defendant then left the scene on his bicycle.
A local police detective interviewed the accuser. The detective subsequently arrested the defendant and conducted an interrogation. At trial, the jury saw a recording of this interview. The defendant maintained the accuser pulled a knife and threatened to kill him. He told the detective that the accuser “beat him up and cut him,” and that he could not remember much else about the altercation.
Before the jury saw this interview, the detective testified that the defendant’s “body language” and “mannerisms” during the interrogation indicated that the defendant’s answers were “deceptive.” The detective said he was qualified to offer this opinion based on his “special training in conducting interviews.” The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer objected to the officer giving this opinion, but the trial judge allowed it.
Ultimately, the jury convicted the defendant of aggravated assault. The trial court sentenced the defendant to 30 years in prison, in part based on his prior criminal history. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge erred in allowing the jury to hear the officer’s opinions regarding his purported “deceptiveness.”
The Fourth District agreed with the defendant. It is a longstanding rule in Florida that a “witness’ opinion as to the credibility, guilt, or innocence of the accused is inadmissible. Here, the appeals court said it was also improper “for a prosecutor to advise the jury to apply an officer’s lay testimony on the topic of body language in evaluating the defendant’s credibility.” It is the function of the jury–not the police–to decide whether or not the defendant is telling the truth.
Speak with a Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Trial by jury is a critical protection against prosecutorial and police overreach. You should never face decades in prison based solely on the opinion of a police officer. If you are charged with a crime and need help from a qualified Miami criminal defense attorney, call the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos at (305) 676-9545 today.