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Name: People v. Veamatahau
Case #: A150689
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/31/2018

Expert’s testimony that he relied on an online pharmaceutical database to identify pills as a controlled substance was properly admitted because it was not case-specific hearsay. At defendant’s trial for possessing a controlled substance and other charges, a criminalist testified that he was able to identify tablets found in appellant’s pocket by comparing its logo with photos of similar tablets on a pharmaceutical database. Two days after a jury convicted him, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, 686, which held an expert cannot “relate as true case-specific facts asserted in hearsay statements, unless they are independently proven by competent evidence or are covered by a hearsay exception.” Defendant appealed, arguing that the criminalist’s testimony relayed case-specific hearsay in violation of Sanchez. Held: Affirmed. An expert’s testimony can traditionally be characterized as either testimony regarding his general knowledge in his field of expertise, which is admissible, or testimony about case-specific facts about which he has no independent knowledge, which is not admissible under Sanchez. Here, the only “case-specific” fact concerned the markings the expert saw on the pills recovered from the defendant, and his testimony about the appearance of the pills was not hearsay because it was based on personal observation. The court determined that the expert’s testimony about the information in the database was not about the specific pills seized from defendant, but generally about what pills containing certain chemicals look like. While this testimony is hearsay, it is the type of background information that has always been admissible under state evidentiary law. Because the court determined that the expert’s testimony was not case-specific hearsay, it did not reach the Attorney General’s argument that the testimony was admissible under the published compilation exception.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: