Carey Haughwout, Public Defender, and Karen E. Ehrlich, Assistant Public Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Daniel P. Hyndman, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for appellee.
Bernard William Reynolds was convicted of the sale of cocaine following a jury trial. He raises two points on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal, and (2) the trial court erred in admitting a police officer's testimony that his conduct was consistent with that of someone conducting a drug transaction. We affirm the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal. However, we reverse and remand for a new trial because the trial court reversibly erred in allowing the officer's testimony regarding general criminal behavior as evidence of the defendant's guilt.
The State sought to prove that the defendant sold crack cocaine to Andrew Valente. At trial, Valente testified that his mother and grandmother drove him to a convenience store and dropped him off so he could make a purchase; his true purpose was to buy cocaine. When Valente arrived at the store, his first contact was with a person whom he described as a short Spanish guy wearing an orange jersey. Valente described the person from whom he purchased crack cocaine as a tall black man with short, scruffy hair. Valente was unable to identify the seller in court.
After Valente purchased the crack cocaine, he got back into the family car and was arrested immediately before he left the parking lot. When Valente was arrested, he had the cocaine in his pocket. Valente testified that his memory of events on the date of the incident was fuzzy, and that he occasionally has problems remembering things. He recalled that the man from whom he purchased the crack cocaine was wearing khaki jeans, and that he paid twenty dollars for the cocaine. He never made a pre-trial identification of the seller.
Officer Brown testified that he was on patrol in Boynton Beach when he noticed a red car pull into the north side parking lot of a convenience store. A black male, whom the officer identified in court as the defendant, went over to the vehicle. When asked what the defendant did, Officer Brown responded that he leaned into the vehicle. Defense counsel objected when the officer started to explain the defendant's actions. The following exchange occurred:
State: Can you tell the jurors what Mr. Reynolds was doing, or what Mr. Reynolds did?
Brown: Okay. Backing up to the time, when someone leans in the car like that it's consistent—
Defendant: Objection, Your Honor, speculation.
Brown: It's consistent with a narcotics or some kind of an interaction with the person inside the vehicle, which in
that area a lot of drug activity takes place.
Officer Brown testified that he then saw the defendant running westbound on the north side of the convenience store. He and another officer followed the defendant in an unmarked vehicle. During that time, Officer Brown heard the defendant yelling to somebody that he " needed two." The officer explained that ...