705.2Personal Knowledge [Rule 602]
- A witness must have personal knowledge about a matter in order to testify about it.
- “Personal knowledge” includes what the witness saw or heard, as well as his or her thoughts, reactions, and inferences derived from that observation.
- Rule 602 contains an exception for expert opinion testimony, which is governed by Rule 703.
The Basic Rule
Rule 602 – Lack of Personal Knowledge
A witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that he has personal knowledge of the matter. Evidence to prove personal knowledge may, but need not, consist of the testimony of the witness himself. This rule is subject to the provisions of Rule 703, relating to opinion testimony by expert witnesses.
Rule 602 requires that a lay witness’s testimony be based on his or her “personal knowledge of the matter.” G.S. 8C-602. This means that “a witness who testifies to a fact which can be perceived by the senses must have had an opportunity to observe and must have actually observed the facts.” G.S. 8C-602, Official Commentary.
In other words, the witness must have seen, heard, or otherwise personally experienced or learned about the matter about which he or she is now giving testimony. See, e.g., State v. Riddick, 315 N.C. 749 (1986) (witness’s statement about what she heard defendant say was based on personal knowledge); State v. Redd, 144 N.C. App. 248 (2001) (“As an eyewitness to the undercover buys, Dixon had personal knowledge. He was therefore competent to testify regarding the undercover buys as a lay witness”); see also State v. Watson, 179 N.C. App. 228 (2006) (trial court did not err in allowing detective’s testimony that he concluded defendant “had no living brothers,” based on detective’s personal knowledge acquired through research and investigation).
Proof of the witness’s personal knowledge of the matter can come from other evidence in the case, or from the testimony itself. See G.S. 8C-602, Official Commentary (“Preliminary determination of personal knowledge need not be explicit but may be implied from the witness' testimony”).
Other Types of Personal Knowledge
In addition to the occurrences or events that were directly observed or experienced by the witness, "personal knowledge" encompasses several other important types of information.
Thoughts, Feelings, and Conclusions
Personal knowledge of a matter also includes the witness’s feelings, reactions, inferences, or conclusions about what the witness observed, as long as those thoughts are rationally based on the witness’s personal perception. See G.S. 8C-602, Official Commentary (“personal knowledge is not an absolute but may consist of what the witness thinks he knows from personal perception”). See, e.g., State v. Sharpless, 221 N.C. App. 132 (2012) (“Dowd merely gave his understanding and interpretation of what went on at the door based on his sitting in the next room and being able to hear the whole situation”); State v. Elkins, 210 N.C. App. 110 (2011) (“A witness is testifying from personal knowledge when she describes her own state of mind and explains the thoughts motivating her own behavior”), quoting State v. Wilkerson, 363 N.C. 382 (2009) (witness's inference that a firearms sale had taken place, even though she did not directly witness it, was a permissible lay opinion under Rule 701 based on her observations that "her husband had procured firearms after speaking with defendant; that when defendant and Malanowski arrived, Mr. Davis showed the weapons to defendant; that she heard defendant explain his need for a firearm; that she noticed that weapons were missing from the house after defendant departed; and that afterwards she saw that her husband had a substantial amount of cash"); State v. Walston, 193 N.C. App. 134 (2008) (officer was speaking from personal knowledge when he described how tracking was done by a canine and what resulted from it); State v. Wright, 151 N.C. App. 493 (2002) (“[A]t the time of the shooting, Wright was positioned to hear the circumstances surrounding the shooting and observe events immediately thereafter. Accordingly, his personal knowledge was such that he could rationally infer that defendant had shot the victim”); State v. Lloyd, 354 N.C. 76 (2001) (“The instantaneous conclusions of the mind as to the appearance, condition, or mental or physical state of persons, animals, and things, derived from observation of a variety of facts presented to the senses at one and the same time, are, legally speaking, matters of fact, and are admissible in evidence.”); State v. Jones, 98 N.C. App. 342 (1990) (no error in allowing officer to testify that informant knew where defendant lived: “Sgt. Bell and other local officers coordinated this undercover operation, including the use of this informant. It can therefore be implied that Sgt. Bell had personal knowledge concerning the informant's awareness of where defendant lived.”).
Additionally, a witness is testifying based on personal knowledge when he or she describes the regular manner in which an act is done, even if the witness did not personally observe the acts taking place on a particular occasion. See, e.g., State v. Warren, 225 N.C. App. 791 (2013) (hotel owner was testifying based on personal knowledge during embezzlement trial when he testified that deposits “were all put together by the defendant,” even though owner did not personally witness the defendant do so in this case, since the owner had “knowledge of the duties of the defendant in the position of general manager” and had assigned those duties to defendant); State v. Anthony, 354 N.C. 372 (2001) (court clerk had personal knowledge to testify about the normal procedures for obtaining domestic violence protective orders, even if she was not directly involved with the order issued in defendant’s case).
Finally, Rule 602 states that the personal knowledge requirement for witness testimony is “subject to the provisions of Rule 703.” The latter rule permits an expert witness to testify in the form of an opinion based on personal knowledge as well as other facts or data “made known to him,” as long as foundational requirements for the opinion are satisfied. G.S. 8C-602.
For more information, see the related Evidence entry on expert testimony, Basis of Opinion [Rule 703].