Marijuana Requires No Laboratory Report in Florida

What happens when Prosecutors use the testimony of a cop, with no testimony from a laboratory to identify the drug, Marijuana / Cannabis?


Florida Marijuana Laws, marijuana, cannabis, #cannabiscommunity, #cannabislaws, #marijuana, #norml
No Lab Report Needed
for Weed in Florida
The following sections are excerpts from the court's marijuana opinion testimony decision that can be found in its entirety here. "The issue before us is whether a police officer’s identification of marijuana, arrived at by sight and smell alone, is admissible experience-based opinion testimony. Because the officer’s opinion was based on his personal knowledge and perception and resulted from a process of everyday reasoning, we hold that the officer’s opinion was admissible as lay opinion testimony under Section 90.701, Florida Statutes."

"We find the officers’ testimony within the 
permissible range of lay
observation and ordinary police experience.”


Florida Law Weekly says, "Trial court did not abuse discretion by admitting police officer's testimony identifying substance as marijuana based on sight and smell alone -- Officer's testimony was admissible as lay opinion testimony because it was based on sufficient personal knowledge and senses of sight and smell, and it was arrived at through a process of everyday reasoning . . . ."

Another Florida Court Does Not Require and Expert or a Lab Test to Prove Possession Charges in Tampa UPDATED July 21 


"Florida's adoption of the Daubert standard has not changed the long established rule that lay persons can identify marijuana—and some other illicit  substances as well, e.g., cocaine and methamphetamine—based on their personal experience and knowledge. Such testimony is not admitted based on scientific expertise but instead based on the layman's training and experience, for which a predicate establishing a sufficient degree of familiarity is sufficient. See United States v. Walters, 904 F.2d 765, 770 (1st Cir. 1990) (holding that scientific analysis or expert testimony is not required to prove the illicit nature of a substance and proof identifying the substance may be based on the opinion of a knowledgeable lay person); United States v. Paiva, 892 F.2d 148, 157 (1st Cir. 1989) ("Although a drug user may not qualify as an expert, he or she may still be competent, based on past experience and personal knowledge and observation, to express an opinion as a lay witness that a particular substance perceived was cocaine or some other drug."); United States v. Dolan, 544 F.2d 1219, 1221 (4th Cir. 1976) ("[L]ay testimony and circumstantial evidence may be sufficient, without the introduction of an expert chemical analysis, to establish the identity of the substance involved in an alleged narcotics transaction."). 

"evidence may be sufficient, without the introduction of an 
expert chemical analysis, to establish the identity of the 
substance involved in an alleged narcotics transaction"

If it were otherwise, there would be a substantial amount of litigation on this subject in the federal courts and other jurisdictions that adopted Daubert years ago. Tellingly, the contrary is true. The federal courts—which have followed Daubert since 1993—have long allowed lay testimony to identify illicit substances much as the deputy did in this case. See, e.g., United States v. Robinson, 144 F.3d 104, 108 (1st Cir. 1998) ("[P]roof based upon scientific analysis or expert testimony is not required to prove the illicit nature of a substance." (quoting United States v. Valencia-Lucena, 925 F.2d 506, 512 (1st Cir. 1991))); Robinson v. State, 702 A.2d 741, 745 (Md. 1997) (collecting both federal and state cases supporting the proposition that proof of the chemical composition of an alleged controlled substance need not be established only by chemical analysis but instead may be proved by circumstantial or indirect evidence)." 

Florida Law Weekly Case Summary: "Because the Daubert standard regarding the admissibility of expert testimony does not change the long-established rule that lay persons can identify marijuana based on their personal experience and knowledge, the court affirmed. The state laid a sufficient foundation for the deputy's identification of the substance found in his book bag as marijuana based on the deputy's experience and training."

Source: http://www.2dca.org/opinions/Opinion_Pages/Opinion_Pages_2016/May/May%2025,%202016/2D15-1738rh.pdf



What is a Typical Marijuana Possession Case in Florida?



This case is a typical marijuana possession case. L.L., a juvenile, was charged with one count of simple possession of cannabis under Section 893.13(6)(b), Florida Statutes. At the adjudicatory hearing below, the State relied, in part, on the testimony of Officer Joseph Munecas, who offered his opinion that the substance in question was marijuana. Prior to trial, L.L. requested a Daubert hearing to challenge the admissibility of Officer Munecas’s opinion testimony. The judge declined to hold a pre-trial hearing, but agreed to conduct the hearing during the course of the trial. The prosecutor began by laying the foundation for Officer Munecas’s opinion testimony, asking the officer about his field experience and training.



"Officer Munecas also searched L.L.’s vehicle and found a 
rolled cigarette under the front passenger seat. 
At trial, and again over L.L.’s objection,
 the officer identified the item as a marijuana cigarette . . . . ."

The Court noted:


"During cross-examination, counsel for L.L. repeatedly asked Officer Munecas how he was able to identify the substance as marijuana. The officer maintained that his opinion was “just based on my experience and based on my senses.” Counsel pressed the officer further, asking whether his experience-based methodology satisfied any of the traditional Daubert factors. For instance, counsel asked whether Officer Munecas used the scientific method, whether he collected any data to formulate his opinion, whether there were any peer reviewed articles determining the reliability of identifying cannabis by sight and smell, or whether he was aware of the false positive rate regarding his method of identifying the substance. Officer Munecas was unable to answer counsel’s pointed questions beyond asserting that he had seen and smelled marijuana on numerous occasions in the past and therefore was able to identify it when he saw and smelled it on this occasion. The officer finally conceded: “Sir, I am a police officer, I’m not a scientist.”

"Although the trial judge expressed doubts as to whether Officer Munecas’s “testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data[,] is the product of reliable principles and methods, and whether he has applied the reliable principles and methods in this case[,]” the judge ruled that the testimony was admissible . . . . "


How did the Florida Marijuana Appeal  court Rule?


"Officer Munecas had sufficient personal knowledge to support his opinion 
that the substance was marijuana. He testified that he had years of experience identifying marijuana by sight and smell, 
even going so far as to claim marijuana is so predominant 
in the community that he sees it “practically every day.”


Florida Statutes, reads as follows:

90.702 Testimony by experts 


If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify about it in the form of an opinion
or otherwise, if:

(1) The testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data;

(2) The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and

(3) The witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.


One of the Legislature’s stated purposes in amending Section 90.702 was “to adopt the standards for expert testimony in the courts of this state as provided in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), and to no longer apply the standard in Frye v. United States, 293 F.2d 1013 (D.C. Cir 1923) in the courts of this state.” Ch. 2013-107, Laws of Fla. (Preamble to § 90.702). The Legislature also intended to prohibit the much criticized pure opinion exception to the Frye admissibility standard as provided in Marsh v. Valyou, 977 So. 2d 543 (Fla. 2007). Id.

Five Factors of the Daubert Test of Admissibility in Florida



In Daubert, the Court referenced five factors courts could use to determine the reliability of expert scientific testimony: 

(1) whether the expert’s theory or technique can be (and has been) tested; 
(2) whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication; 
(3) the known or potential rate of error; 
(4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique’s operation; and 
(5) whether the technique has been generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. 

509 U.S. at 593-94. 

The Defense claimed that Officer Munecas’s opinion testimony did not satisfy Daubert’s reliability standard. The State counters by arguing the Daubert factors are “flexible and nonexhaustive.” However, we do not decide this case under Daubert’s expert opinion testimony framework because the admissibility of Officer Munecas’s experience-based testimony is more appropriately analyzed under Section 90.701.


Section 90.701: Lay Opinion Testimony 



We begin with the text of Section 90.701, Florida Statutes:

90.701. Opinion testimony of lay witnesses

If a witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness’s testimony about what he or she perceived may be in the form of inference and opinion when:

(1) The witness cannot readily, and with equal accuracy and adequacy, communicate what he or she has perceived to the trier of fact without testifying in terms of inferences or opinions and the witness's use of inferences or opinions will not mislead the trier of fact to the prejudice of the objecting party; and

(2) The opinions and inferences do not require a special knowledge, skill, experience, or training.

However the Florida court ruled in this case “[a]ll lay witnesses have some specialized knowledge—knowledge relevant to the case that is not common to everyone . . . . Indeed, that is why all witnesses—lay or expert—are called: to get what they know about the case that other people do not.” Paul F. Rothstein, Fed. Rules of Evidence Rule 701 (3d ed.). The text of the Federal Rules offers more guidance than does Section 90.701 because it specifies that lay opinion testimony is not based on “specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.” Fed. R. Evid. 701 (emphasis added). With this in mind, the question is not whether the opinion requires specialized knowledge, as all opinion testimony does, but whether the specialized knowledge is sufficiently specialized to fall within the scope of Section 90.702. See Rothstein, supra, Rule 701.

The Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 701 prove instructive on this point, distinguishing between specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702 and personal knowledge: “courts have permitted lay witnesses to testify that a substance appeared to be a narcotic, so long as a foundation of familiarity with the substance is established.” Fed. R. Evid. 701 advisory committee’s note to 2000 amendment. This is because “[s]uch testimony is not based on specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702, but rather is based upon a layperson’s personal knowledge.” Id.; see also § 90.604, Fla. Stat. (“Except as evidence is introduced which is sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.”)

The lay witness may not rely on hearsay in forming an opinion, but the witness may base the opinion on what the witness has perceived.” (citing Somerville v. State, 626 So. 2d 1070 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993))); Barnes v. State, 415 So. 2d 1280, 1283 (Fla. 2d DCA 1982) (“Section 90.701, Florida Statutes (1979), allows opinions of lay witnesses only when based upon what the witness has ‘perceived.’”).

Here, Officer Munecas’s opinion is based solely on his personal, firsthand knowledge and what he perceived. Cf. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592 (“Unlike an ordinary witness, see Rule 701, an expert is permitted wide latitude to offer opinions, including those that are not based on firsthand knowledge or observation.”). For instance, when asked how he was able to identify the “strong smell of marijuana” coming from L.L.’s rolled-down window,

Finally, we hasten to add that although the more demanding Daubert admissibility standard does not apply to lay opinion testimony, there is nevertheless a reliability inquiry. Not only must lay opinion testimony be based on the witness’s personal knowledge, section 90.604, Florida Statutes, and perceptions, section 90.701, Florida Statutes, but the witness must have sufficient personal knowledge to support the opinion. See Imwinkelried, Distinguishing, supra, at 94 (“[T]he judge must determine whether the extent of the witness’s familiarity is ‘sufficient.’”) (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 901(b)(2) (advisory committee’s note)).7 Here, we have no difficulty concluding that Officer Munecas had sufficient personal knowledge to support his opinion that the substance was marijuana. He testified that he had years of experience identifying marijuana by sight and smell, even going so far as to claim marijuana is so predominant in the community that he sees it “practically every day.”

For the reasons outlined above, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Officer Munecas’s marijuana identification testimony in this case. Officer Munecas’s testimony was admissible lay opinion testimony under Section 90.701 because it was based on sufficient personal knowledge and his senses of sight and smell, and it was arrived at through a process of everyday reasoning. We therefore affirm the decision of the trial court.

Affirmed.

Third District Court of Appeal State of Florida

Opinion filed April 6, 2016. Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

No. 3D14-2410 Lower Tribunal No. 14-2034

L.L., a juvenile,  Appellant,

vs.

The State of Florida, Appellee.

An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Richard Hersch, Judge.