Expert Article Library

Police Officer Testimony on Drug Code Words Is Admissible

Case Name: United States v. Wilson (unpublished (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit

Date: April 19, 2007

Expert: Law Enforcement Officer. Detective Seabolt, Expert Drug Investigator in the Baltimore Metro Area

Issue: Whether a law enforcement officer may be considered an expert under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 in the interpretation of drug code words and street slang.

Summary of case: A case involving conspiracy to distribute cocaine (with various other charges) in which the Baltimore County police and federal officers wiretapped defendants’ cellular phones.

Role of the expert: Detective Seabolt’s expert testimony interpreted the code words and drug slang the defendants used in conversations recorded by the wiretap. Seabolt was characterized as an expert “in the field of investigating drug trafficking in the Baltimore metropolitan region.”

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Defendant argued that Seabolt did not adequately explain how his narcotics field experience supported his methodology and conclusions regarding the code words and slang. The court ruled that Seabolt’s explanation to the jury was adequate to qualify him as an expert under Fed. R. Evid. 702.

Summary prepared by C. Wood, Student, University of California, Hastings College of the Law