State v. Storm, 228 N.C. App. 272 (Jul. 2, 2013)

In a murder case, the trial court did not err by excluding testimony of Susan Strain, a licensed social worker. Strain worked with the defendant’s step-father for several years and testified that she occasionally saw the defendant in the lobby of the facility where she worked. The State objected to Strain’s proffered testimony that on one occasion the defendant “appeared noticeably depressed with flat affect.” The trial court allowed Strain to testify to her observation of the defendant, but did not permit her to make a diagnosis of depression based upon her brief observations of the defendant some time ago. The defendant tendered Strain as a lay witness and made no attempt to qualify her as an expert; her opinion thus was limited to the defendant’s emotional state and she could not testify concerning a specific psychiatric diagnosis. The statement that the defendant “appeared noticeably depressed with flat affect” is more comparable to a specific psychiatric diagnosis than to a lay opinion of an emotional state. Furthermore Strain lacked personal knowledge because she only saw the defendant on occasion in the lobby, her observations occurred seven years before to the murder, she did not spend any appreciable amount of time with him, and the defendant did not present any evidence to indicate Strain had personal knowledge of his mental state at that time.

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