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Name: People v. Rios (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 1128
Case #: G061764
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 02/23/2024

Laser narcotics identification test (TruNarc) is based on a new scientific technique and the prosecution failed to establish its admissibility under the Kelly rule. Following a search of Rios’s vehicle and hotel room, an officer seized substances that he later tested using a TruNarc laser device, which indicated that the substances were methamphetamine and carisoprodol (Soma) pills. A jury convicted Rios of drug offenses. On appeal, she argued the TruNarc evidence was not admissible under People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24, which applies when a party seeks to introduce expert testimony on a new scientific technique. Held: Reversed in part. The Court of Appeal concluded the TruNarc test was based on a new scientific technique because there is an absence of case law discussing the test and the test conveys of an “aura of certainty” to a jury. The court also concluded the prosecution failed meet its burden under the Kelly rule. The officer could not testify as to the acceptance of TruNarc test results within the relevant scientific community and it did not appear the officer was qualified to testify about the underlying scientific principles, which ostensibly involve laser technology. As a result, it was error to admit the testimony about the TruNarc test at trial. As to the methamphetamine counts, the error in admitting the TrueNarc evidence was harmless. The officer had recognized the substance based on his training and experience, Rios admitted to possessing meth, and there was evidence of sales of meth. However, the error was prejudicial as to the carisoprodol pills. [Editor’s Note: The court also concluded that the Kelly rule challenge was not forfeited for purposes of appeal.]