Government of Virgin Islands v. Knight 989 F.2d 619 (1993)
Knight was beating Miller in the head with his gun. The
weapon discharged, killing Miller.
Knight admitted beating Miller, but claimed that the gun
went off accidentally.
At trial, the Trial Judge allowed the defense to present
eyewitness testimony that Knight never pointed the gun at Miller, and
never threatened to shoot him. However, the judge did not permit the
eyewitness or the investigating police officer from offering their opinions
that firing the gun was unintentional.
The Trial Court found Knight guilty of voluntary
manslaughter. He appealed.
The Appellate Court found that some of the evidence had
been excluded in error.
The Appellate Court ruled that the Trial Court had
properly excluded the police officer's testimony because he did not
witness the event and did not have personal knowledge.
The Appellate Court looked to FRE 701, and found
that the eyewitness did have firsthand knowledge as required by FRE
The Appellate Court found that the eyewitness' opinion
would have been helpful to a clear understanding of the witness'
testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, as required by FRE
The Appellate Court found that the testimony has been
excluded in error, but it didn't matter because the charge was
manslaughter, not murder, so even if it was an accident, Knight was still
Basically, under FRE 701 opinions of lay persons
are admissible as long as they:
Are rationally based on first hand knowledge,
Are helpful to a clear understanding of the witness'
testimony or the determination of a fact at issue, and
Do not require scientific or technical knowledge (then
they are covered by FRE 702).
Are not based upon expertise.
Do not speak in legal terminology (such as, "he's
not guilty of premeditated murder."
Are still relevant and helpful, or it might be excluded
under FRE 403.