United States v. Johnson

575 F.2d 1347 (5th Cir. 1978)


Lipper (D) was on trial for conspiracy to import marijuana. The government (P) called de Pianelli as an expert witness as to the marijuana source. He was allowed to testify whether the particular sample of marijuana was grown in the country. His only qualifications as an expert were that he had often used and dealt marijuana, and had been called on to identify it. He had no special training or education about the subject. After the voir dire examination, Ds objected to de Pianelli's expertise for lack of authentication that he had actually smoked it, touched it, or correctly identified it. Despite the objection, the trial court permitted de Pianelli to give opinion evidence. Before the jury, he related his experiences with marijuana and explained that he had tested a sample of marijuana from each importation and had verified that it came from Colombia. D contends that the source of marijuana is not a matter requiring expert opinion and that there was no foundation for de Pianelli's testimony. D further contends that it was an error to qualify de Pianelli as an expert because he had never been to South America and, of course, had never smoked marijuana there or seen it growing in South America. D contends that de Pianelli's testimony was conclusively rebutted by an associate professor of biological science at Florida State University, Loren C. Anderson. The testimony was allowed. D was convicted and appealed, claiming that de Pianelli should not have been allowed to testify.