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Martin v. County of San Diego

April 20, 2010

DAVID MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; DETECTIVE ROLAND MAUS; DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY ELIZABETH SILVA; WILIAM A. PHILLIPS; AND ANDY'S ORCHIDS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 2 to Preclude Lt. Richardson from Testifying as an Expert Witness; Denying Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 3 to Preclude Defendants from Offering Testimony Regarding Det. Maus's Compliance with County Policy

Plaintiff moves the Court for an order precluding defense expert, San Diego County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Todd Richardson, from testifying at trial on a number of topics including whether Det. Maus complied with the Sheriff's Department policies for obtaining search warrants. The Court held an initial hearing on April 1, 2010, and held a subsequent hearing on April 16, 2010, at which time Lt. Richardson gave testimony regarding his qualifications and anticipated opinions. Following such hearing, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion in limine no. 2 as set forth more fully below, and DENIES Plaintiff's motion in limine no. 3.

Discussion

Defendants intend to offer testimony from Lt. Richardson regarding standard police investigative procedures, including procurement of search warrants. Defendants argue Lt. Richardson's testimony is relevant to show that Det. Maus acted reasonably, in accordance with standard police procedures, and is thus entitled to qualified immunity.

Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence allows a qualified expert to testify regarding "scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge" so long as such testimony will "assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue." Mukhtar v. California State University, 299 F.3d 1053, 1063 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993)). At the time of the April 16, 2010 hearing, the Court found Lt. Richardson was qualified as an expert based upon his training and experience. See Hangarter v. Provident Life, 373 F.3d 998, 1015 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting that Rule 702 "contemplates a broad conception of expert qualifications); United States v. Freeman, 498 F.3d 893, 901 fn.1 (9th Cir. 2007) (finding police officer with experience similar to Lt. Richardson was qualified to offer expert testimony regarding law enforcement practices). Thus, the proffered expert testimony is admissible so long as it is "specialized knowledge" which will "assist the trier of fact."

The Ninth Circuit has already found that Det. Maus omitted several material facts from his search warrant affidavit, and that the corrected affidavit would not have established probable cause. Thus, the remaining issues for trial are (i) whether Det. Maus intentionally or recklessly omitted the information from his affidavit, Butler, 281 F.3d at 1024, and (ii) whether a reasonably well-trained officer in Det. Maus's position would have known that a neutral magistrate or judge would not have issued the warrant if he included the omitted facts. Lombardi, 117 F.3d at 1123. Lt. Richardson cannot offer any relevant testimony regarding Det. Maus's intent in omitting information from his affidavit. However, the Court believes Lt. Richardson's proffered testimony regarding how law enforcement investigations are conducted, and the process by which an officer determines what evidence to include in a search warrant affidavit, is probative to the defense of qualified immunity.

"It is well-established ... that expert testimony concerning an ultimate issue is not per se improper." Mukhtar v. Cal. State Univ., Hayward, 299 F.3d 1053, 1066 n. 10 (9th Cir.2002).

Indeed, Fed.R.Evid. 704(a) provides that expert testimony that is "otherwise admissible is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact." That said, "an expert witness cannot give an opinion as to her legal conclusion, i.e., an opinion on an ultimate issue of law."

Hangarter, 373 F.3d at 1016 (quoting Mukhtar, 299 F.3d at 1066 n. 10). Lt. Richardson cannot testify that Det. Maus's decision to omit certain facts was reasonable or that under the same circumstances he would have similarly omitted the facts.*fn1 However, Lt. Richardson can testify regarding the following subjects:

* the steps Det. Maus took in preparing the warrant affidavit, including enlisting the District Attorney to review the draft;

* that the investigative techniques employed by Det. Maus leading up to the procurement of the warrant comported with law enforcement standards;

* the factors a reasonable officer relies upon in exercising discretion on what to include or exclude from a search warrant affidavit; and

* that a reasonably trained officer would expect a suspect to provide verification of a claimed alibi.

Each of these areas of testimony will aid the jury in evaluating whether a reasonable officer in Det. Maus's position would have known that a neutral magistrate or judge would not have issued ...


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