Expert Article Library

Drug Slang Translated

Case Name: United States v. Berry (http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/981140.txt)

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Date: November 14, 2005

Expert: Narcotics—Drugs. Detective Freddy Chaves

Issues: Whether the expert correctly interpreted drug slang; whether interpreting symbols required an expert.

Summary of case: Trial court convicted defendant of distributing cocaine.

Role of the expert: The detective testified about the coded language regarding drugs and about symbols on a drug tally sheet in a narcotics trial that allegedly referred to Berry.

Expert analysis: Defendant challenged that the detective-expert wrongly interpreted the language; also, that his testimony about the symbols violated the Gibbs standard, because the jury could figure out the symbols without expertise.

The Court held that allowing experienced government agents to testify about the meaning of coded drug language was proper. For example, “beats,” “sneakers” and “teams” referred to cocaine. Otherwise, the jury could not make sense of the drug code slang.

Because of the expert’s experience in investigating the particular ring, the Court also held his expertise about the symbols again aided the jury’s interpretation of the facts.

The Court admitted the testimony and affirmed the convictions.

Summary prepared by R. McCall, Student, University of California, Hastings College of Law