may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Wiley Young Lodge,
Filed October 8, 1996
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K1-95-766
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Bradford S. Delapena, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
Appellant Wiley Young Lodge challenges the judgment of conviction for the unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to sell, arguing that the trial court erroneously admitted the testimony of a police officer, that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction, and that the search was unconstitutional. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
In March 1995, police officers Theodore Gillet and Mike Ernster were patrolling an area of St. Paul in a marked squad car when they observed Lodge speeding. Lodge made a rolling stop at the next intersection and then made a turn without signaling. The officers activated their red lights to pull Lodge over, but he did not stop. Lodge drove into a parking area in front of his residence, got out, and walked to the trunk of his car. The officers exited the squad car and asked Lodge to approach their vehicle. Lodge ignored this request and also ignored Officer Ernster's command to place his hands on top of his head.
When the officers began to approach him, Lodge reached inside his jacket. Believing that Lodge was reaching for a weapon, the officers grabbed Lodge's arms. Lodge resisted the officers and continued to try to reach inside his jacket pocket. When Officer Cyril Dargay responded to the officers' call for assistance, Lodge continued to struggle with all three officers. Lodge was eventually restrained and handcuffed. Officer Gillet reached inside Lodge's jacket pocket and found a bag containing 13.49 grams of powder cocaine. Lodge was placed inside the squad car, and another search revealed three plastic baggies and $1,596 in cash.
Lodge was charged with violation of controlled substance law in the first and second degree. A jury found Lodge guilty as charged, and the trial court sentenced him to 86 months in prison. This appeal followed.
Lodge contends that the trial court erred when it allowed Officer Bratsch to testify that, in his opinion, Lodge is a drug dealer.
The admissibility of expert testimony lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. State v. Helterbridle, 301 N.W.2d 545, 547 (Minn. 1980). An expert may give testimony on the ultimate issue which the finder of fact must decide. State v. Langley, 354 N.W.2d 389, 401 (Minn. 1984). In determining whether expert testimony should be admitted, the basic consideration is whether it will be helpful to the jury. Minn. R. Evid. 702.
An officer is allowed to give an opinion based on the officer's training and experience as long as there is "sufficient foundation for the specific opinion expressed." State v. Klawitter, 518 N.W.2d 577, 586 (Minn. 1994). The determination of whether the foundation is sufficient to qualify a witness as an expert and whether to permit the witness to offer an expert opinion rests within the discretion of the trial court. Kastner v. Wermerskirschen, 295 Minn. 391, 394, 205 N.W.2d 336, 338 (1973).
Here, Officer Bratsch testified about his extensive experience relating to illegal narcotics transactions. He stated that he is familiar with how powder cocaine is bought and sold in St. Paul. Bratsch explained what the terms "user" and "dealer" mean and testified about the different levels of dealers and how they operate. He also testified about the price and quantities of cocaine on the street. He stated that a user of cocaine generally would not have over ten grams of cocaine on him or her at one time. Officer Bratsch further testified about the significance of the plastic baggies and the cash found on Lodge. He stated that the bags could be used to distribute cocaine, and that, in his experience, people dealing in large quantities of cocaine generally carry a large amount of money. Finally, Bratsch stated that "it's my conclusion, and there's no doubt in my mind, that Wiley Lodge is a drug dealer."
We conclude that the testimony regarding Bratsch's experience with and understanding of illegal narcotics transactions was appropriate. See Klawitter, 518 N.W.2d at 586 (holding that an officer is allowed to give an opinion based on the officer's training and experience as long as there is "sufficient foundation for the specific opinion expressed"). However, Bratsch's definitive conclusion that Lodge is a drug dealer was prejudicial and should have been excluded. Thus, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Bratsch's opinion testimony, and Lodge is entitled to a new trial.
Because we hold that Lodge is entitled to a new trial on the basis of inadmissible expert testimony, we do not reach his sufficiency of the evidence or unconstitutional search and seizure claims.
We have reviewed Lodge's remaining pro se arguments and find them to be without merit.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.