State v. Houser, 239 N.C. App. 410 (Feb. 17, 2015)

In this felony child abuse case, the trial court did not commit plain error by admitting testimony from an investigating detective that the existence of the victim’s hairs in a hole in the wall of the home where the incident occurred was inconsistent with defendant’s account of the incident, that he punched the wall when he had difficulty communicating with a 911 operator. The detective’s testimony did not invade the province of the jury by commenting on the truthfulness of defendant’s statements and subsequent testimony. Rather, the court reasoned, the detective was explaining the investigative process that led officers to return to the home and collect the hair sample (later determined to match the victim). Contrary to defendant’s arguments, testimony that the hair embedded in the wall was inconsistent with defendant’s version of the incident was not an impermissible statement that defendant was not telling the truth. The detective’s testimony served to provide the jury a clear understanding of why the officers returned to the home after their initial investigation and how officers came to discover the hair and request forensic testing of that evidence. It concluded: “these statements were rationally based on [the officer’s] experience as a detective and were helpful to the jury in understanding the investigative process in this case.”