Under People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, an expert may not relate as true the case-specific contents of documents that were neither admitted into evidence nor shown to fall within a hearsay exception. A jury found Yates to be a sexually violent predator (SVP) (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600, et seq.). On appeal, he argued the trial court admitted prejudicial hearsay evidence used to support the prosecution experts’ opinions. Held: Reversed. An alleged SVP is entitled to a jury trial where the prosecution is required to establish (1) that defendant has been convicted of a qualifying sexually violent offense, (2) that he has a diagnosed mental disorder making him a danger to others, and (3) the mental disorder makes it likely the defendant will engage in future sexually violent acts if released from custody. Under the law prior to Sanchez, an expert was permitted to provide such opinion testimony based on the contents of hearsay evidence regarding the offender. However, in Sanchez, the court found such case-specific hearsay testimony inadmissible. Here, several experts testified as to Yates’ qualifying sexually violent offenses, relying on statements contained in documents from criminal and hospital records. This was error. The hearsay exception created by section 6600, subdivision (a)(3) allows admission of documentary evidence to show the details of a qualifying offense, but no documents were introduced in this case. And, while some of the contents of authenticated hospital records are often admissible as business records (Evid. Code, § 1271), here no foundation was laid for use of these records. Without the inadmissible, case-specific hearsay admitted by the trial court, the basis for the experts’ opinions disappears. Reversal is required.
Because his trial attorney’s failure to make appropriate objections to the admission of case-specific hearsay was prejudicial, Yates was entitled to relief. During trial, no hospital records or other documents, which were the sources of the case-specific hearsay related to the jury by prosecution experts, were admitted into evidence. When the experts related case-specific hearsay based on criminal and hospital records, trial counsel did not lodge objections under Sanchez. The Attorney General argued the failure to object forfeited the Sanchez issue on appeal. Yates countered that if the issue was forfeited, then his attorney ineffectively represented him and he was thereby prejudiced. The Court of Appeal concluded there could be no satisfactory explanation for defense counsel’s failure to object to the experts’ testimony, and that it was reasonably probable the result would have been different had the trial court sustained the appropriate objections.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B279863.PDF