State v. Phillips, 365 N.C. 103 (Jun. 16, 2011)

In this capital case, the trial court did not commit plain error by admitting lay opinion testimony by an eyewitness. When the eyewitness was asked about the defendant’s demeanor, she stated: “He was fine. I mean it was -- he had -- he knew what he was doing. He had it planned out. It was a -- he -- he knew before he ever got there what was going to happen.” The defendant argued that the eyewitness had no personal knowledge of any plans the defendant might have had. The court noted that a lay witness may provide testimony based upon inference or opinion if the testimony is rationally based on the witness’s perception and helpful to a clear understanding of his or her testimony or the determination of a fact in issue. It further noted that this rule permits a witness to express “instantaneous conclusions of the mind as to the appearance, condition, or mental or physical state of persons, animals, and things, derived from observation of a variety of facts presented to the senses at one and the same time. Such statements are usually referred to as shorthand statements of facts.” Immediately before the testimony at issue, the witness testified that the defendant had said that “[h]e was in debt with somebody who he needed money for and that’s why they came to [the] house,” that the debt was “with a drug dealer and they were going to kill him, if he did not come up with their money,” and that “his brother had been shot and he was dying and he had to get their money.” In context, the witness’s statements that the defendant “had it planned out” and “knew before he ever got there what was going to happen” were helpful to an understanding of her testimony and were rationally based on her perceptions upon seeing the defendant commit the multiple murders at issue.