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Name: People v. Sibrian
Case #: A143369
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/07/2016

During trial for resisting an officer, court did not abuse its discretion by allowing expert testimony concerning excessive force where the arresting officer used more than bare hands. During Sibrian’s trial for resisting an officer (Pen. Code, §69), the prosecution had an expert on excessive force give opinion testimony, based on a hypothetical that closely tracked the facts of this case, that an arresting officer’s use of force (punching and tasering someone to remove him from his car during a traffic stop) was consistent with the “industry standard.” The jury convicted Sibrian, who appealed and argued that the expert’s testimony was unnecessary because the jury was perfectly capable of evaluating the reasonableness of the officer’s use of force for itself. Held: Affirmed. To convict a defendant of resisting, the prosecution must prove that the officer was acting lawfully. An officer is not acting lawfully if his use of force was unreasonable or excessive. Evidence Code section 801 allows an expert to testify on matters that are sufficiently beyond common experience that the opinion of an expert would assist the trier of fact. When an officer’s use of force consists solely of bare hands, expert testimony may be unhelpful. (See, e.g., People v. Brown (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 140; Allgoewer v. City of Tracy (2012) 217 Cal.App.4th 755.) However, the force used by the officer in this case went beyond bare hands and involved the use of a Taser and handcuffs. The expert’s testimony provided “relevant context and a basis for evaluating the officers’ handling techniques and choice of assistive tools.” The trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing it.

Trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding evidence that an arresting officer had a pending civil lawsuit for using excessive force. During Sibrian’s trial, the defense sought to ask one of the arresting officers whether it was true that he was currently being sued for using excessive force (deploying his Taser on a man who later died). Sibrian argued that the evidence was relevant to bias and to show prior bad acts. The trial court excluded the evidence, reasoning that the lawsuit was irrelevant to bias and that Sibrian had not proven the prior bad act by a preponderance of the evidence. On appeal Sibrian argued that the trial court abused its discretion. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Defense counsel had no witnesses to establish the facts underlying the lawsuit and did not even offer the civil complaint as evidence of the specific allegations. “Defendant cannot claim he was improperly barred from presenting relevant, admissible evidence, when he has not identified any such proffered evidence in the record.” Furthermore, even if Sibrian had been permitted to ask the officer about the pending suit, a more favorable outcome was not reasonably probable.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: