Expert testimony that pills possessed by defendant matched pills displayed on a website called “Ident-A-Drug” was inadmissible hearsay under People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665. During Stamps’ drug possession trial, the court permitted a criminologist to testify as an expert that she identified the pills found in Stamps’ possession as controlled substances by visually comparing them to pictures on the Ident-A-Drug website. Stamps appealed, arguing that the expert’s testimony was based on inadmissible hearsay. Held: Reversed. Sanchez recently altered the law concerning the admissibility of expert testimony based on hearsay by adopting the following rule: when an expert relates to the jury case-specific out-of-court statements (as opposed to general background), and treats the content of those statements as true and accurate to support the expert’s opinion, the statements are hearsay. Here, the parties agreed that the content of the Ident-A-Drug website was hearsay. The content of the website was also “case-specific” thus triggering the Sanchez rule: “We think it undeniable that the chemical composition of the pills Stamps possessed must be considered case-specific. Indeed, the Ident-A-Drug hearsay was admitted as proof of the very gravamen of the crime with which she was charged. There is no credible argument that the testimony concerned ‘general background’ supporting [the criminologist’s] opinion.” The Attorney General did not propose any hearsay exception that would render the evidence admissible. The error was prejudicial despite Stamps’ statements to police indicating that some of the pills were Norco and Phexoreal because there was no evidence (aside from the criminologist’s testimony) that the pills actually contained controlled substances. However, the court also concluded that sufficient evidence supported the verdict such that retrial was not barred.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A142424.PDF