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Uttering Forged Check Case Reversed When Police Officer Improperly Identifies Defendant

In an uttering a forged check case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was charged with allegedly going into a bank and cashing a check that was forged. Once the bank realized the check was forged, they called the police. The police officer obtained the check and saw that it was endorsed in the name of the defendant. They also obtained the video footage from the camera positioned at that teller station. When the police officer saw the name on the check, he went to the driver’s license computer system and obtained a picture and signature for the suspect. The police officer determined that the signature on file with the DMV matched the signature on the forged check. He also concluded that the picture on file with the DMV matched the video footage of the suspect in the bank.

At the trial of the defendant for uttering a forged check, the defendant’s picture and signature on file with the DMV were shown to the jury along with the signature on the check and the bank video. The police officer was allowed to testify that, in his opinion, the signatures and the photo and video matched. The jury convicted the defendant of uttering a forged check.

The conviction was reversed because the police officer’s testimony was improper. The police officer was not at the bank when the check was cashed and had never seen the defendant before. He had no specific knowledge about the defendant. He also had no special training or expertise in handwriting analysis or video identification. In other words, his opinion was nothing special. The jury was equally capable of deciding if the defendant was in the video and it was his signature on the check. More importantly, that is the jury’s job (not a police officer who was not an eyewitness to the crime) in a criminal case. Because the police officer attempted to substitute his non-expert opinion for the jury’s and tried to assume the jury’s role, his testimony was improper and the conviction was reversed.