The trial court granted a motion by defendant Horace William Chapple (respondent) to set aside the information (Pen.Code,
Defendant was charged with being an ex-felon in possession of body armor in violation of section 12370(a).
The following evidence was adduced at the preliminary hearing:
San Francisco Police Officer David Brandt testified that on March 11, 2004, police executed a search warrant at respondent's San Francisco apartment. Officer Brandt said that during the search a vest was found inside a downstairs bedroom on the closet door. Sergeant Evanson took the item into custody.
After Officer Brandt testified that he saw the seized vest, the following colloquy ensued:
San Francisco Police Inspector Richard Daniele testified that following respondent's arrest and after waiving his Miranda rights (Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694), respondent said he purchased the seized vest on the street for $40 "for protection."
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, respondent argued there was insufficient evidence to support a finding on the section 12370(a) charge. The following colloquy ensued between the court and counsel:
"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: There should have been some sort of testing or expert opinion regarding this body armor to show whether or not in fact it is the type prohibited by the Penal Code. And without that, it is not sufficient for them to go forward with this charge.
"THE COURT: All right. Counsel?
"[THE PROSECUTOR]: Your Honor, although we did not specifically qualify the witness as an expert, I believe his 20 plus years of experience as an officer, his [brother] joining — showing him a vest as a young boy, he wears one every day —
"[THE COURT]: Do you think he would have qualified as an expert for those purposes?
"[THE PROSECUTOR]: Absolutely for identifying what appeared to him to be a bullet proof vest, yes; in terms of ballistic testing, no.
The magistrate (Judge Haines) then ruled that Officer Brandt's testimony was sufficient for purposes of the preliminary hearing, and held respondent to answer on the charge.
Thereafter, respondent moved to set aside the information pursuant to section 995, and the court (Judge Breall) granted the motion. The People filed a timely appeal from the order.
To prevail on a section 995 motion to set aside an information, the defendant must establish that he was "committed without reasonable or probable cause." (§ 995, subd. (a)(2)(B).) To establish probable cause sufficient to withstand a section 995 motion to dismiss, the People must make some showing as to the existence of each element of the charged offense. (Thompson v. Superior Court (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 144, 148-149, 110 Cal.Rptr.2d 89.) "Evidence that will justify a prosecution need not be sufficient to support a conviction. [Citations.] `"Probable cause is shown if a man of ordinary caution or prudence would be led to believe and conscientiously entertain a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused."' [Citations.] An information will not be set aside or a prosecution thereon prohibited if there is some rational ground for assuming the possibility that an offense has been committed and the accused is guilty of it. [Citations.]" (Rideout v. Superior Court (1967) 67 Cal.2d 471, 474, 62 Cal.Rptr. 581, 432 P.2d 197.) "[T]he showing required at a preliminary hearing is exceedingly low." (Salazar v. Superior Court (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 840, 846, 100 Cal.Rptr.2d 120.) An information should be set aside "only when there is a total absence of evidence to support a necessary element of the offense charged." (People v. Superior Court (Jurado) (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 1217, 1226, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 242.) The requisite showing may be established by circumstantial evidence. (Ibid.)
Thus, the prosecution's burden of persuasion at a preliminary hearing is far lower than at trial. But, the rules on the admissibility of evidence at that hearing are governed by the Evidence Code. Evidence Code section 300 provides, "Except as otherwise provided by statute, this code applies in every action before the . . . superior court, including proceedings in such actions conducted by a referee, court commissioner, or similar officer, but does not apply in grand jury proceedings." With certain discrete exceptions, not relevant here,
In this case, the validity of the holding order depends upon the admissibility of Officer Brandt's opinion that the seized vest was "a body armor vest." Opinion testimony is generally inadmissible at trial. (People v. Torres (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 37, 45, 39 Cal.Rptr.2d 103; People v. Williams (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 1326, 1332, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 130; 1 Witkin, Cal. Evidence (4th ed. 2000) Opinion Evidence, § 1, p. 528.) Two exceptions to this rule exist. First, a properly qualified expert, with "special knowledge, skill, experience, training [or] education" may provide an opinion. (Evid.Code, § 801, subd. (b).) The subject matter of such an opinion is limited to "a subject that is sufficiently beyond common experience that [it] would assist the trier of fact." (Id., subd. (a).) "Expert opinion is not admissible if it consists of inferences and conclusions which can be drawn as easily and intelligently by the trier of fact as by the witness. [Citation.]" (Torres, at p. 45, 39 Cal.Rptr.2d 103.) "[T]he decisive consideration in determining the admissibility of expert opinion evidence is whether the subject of inquiry is one of such common knowledge that men of ordinary education could reach a conclusion as intelligently as the witness or whether, on the other hand, the matter is sufficiently beyond common experience that the opinion of an expert would assist the trier of fact." (People v. Cole (1956) 47 Cal.2d 99, 103, 301 P.2d 854.) Thus, the purpose of expert testimony, to provide an opinion beyond common experience, dictates that the witness possess uncommon, specialized knowledge.
Lay opinion is also admissible, but it plays a very different role than expert opinion and is subject to different rules of admissibility. "`Lay opinion testimony is admissible where no particular scientific knowledge is required, or as "a matter of practical necessity when the matters . . . observed are too complex or too subtle to enable [the witness] accurately to convey them to court or jury in any other manner." [Citations.]' [Citation.]" (People v. Williams, supra, 3 Cal.App.4th at p. 1332, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 130.) It must be rationally based on the witness's perception and helpful to a clear understanding of the witness's testimony. (Evid.Code, § 800; People v. Farnam (2002) 28 Cal.4th 107, 153, 121 Cal.Rptr.2d 106, 47 P.3d 988; People v. Maglaya (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1604, 1609, 6 Cal.Rptr.3d 155.) For example, testimony that another person was intoxicated (People v. Garcia (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 639, 643, 104 Cal.Rptr. 69) or angry (People v. Deacon (1953) 117 Cal.App.2d 206, 210, 255 P.2d 98) or driving a motor vehicle at an excessive speed (Jordan
In this case, Officer Brandt was not offered as an expert witness at the preliminary hearing. Following the officer's testimony, the magistrate expressly ruled that Officer Brandt did not qualify as an expert as to the "composition" of the seized vest and "whether or not it is up to standards, whatever they might be."
The Williams case is instructive. In Williams, an officer testified regarding his knowledge, training and experience to administer and evaluate the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. The appellate court concluded that the officer was not qualified to give an expert opinion that the appellant's responses to that test were caused by alcohol consumption, and rejected the argument that the opinion qualified as a lay opinion. (People v. Williams, supra, 3 Cal.App.4th at p. 1333, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 130) "If [the officer's] opinion that appellant was under the influence of alcohol was based solely on [appellant's slurred speech, unsteadiness and the odor of alcohol] it would be admissible as lay opinion. Here, however, . . . [the officer's] opinion was based in some part on his administration of HGN testing and his interpretation of appellant's response to the testing stimulus. He drew a conclusion from the testing only because of his knowledge, training, and experience which was clearly beyond common experience. Matters beyond common experience are not proper subjects of lay opinion testimony." (Williams, at pp. 1332-1333, 5 Cal.Rptr.2d 130.)
Here, the magistrate, after determining that Officer Brandt's knowledge and experience were insufficient to qualify him as an expert, relied on that knowledge and experience to admit the opinion. As Williams clarifies, however, we do not have a third category of admissible opinions provided by highly experienced, nonexpert, lay witnesses. Lay opinion testimony may rest only on common experience,
The crime charged consists of elements incapable of determination by the trier of fact without the assistance of an expert.
The order is affirmed.
We concur, JONES, P.J., and GEMELLO, J.