Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Court of Appeal:
Pills Can Be Found to Be Contraband Without Chemical Test
Expert Determination Using Online Reference Work Declared Adequate
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed the conviction of a man for possessing contraband in a jail, holding that it was not necessary to test the pills to ascertain their nature and that an expert’s use of an online reference work sufficed.
“Here we hold that Ident-A-Drug, an internet drug reference work, comes within the published compilation exception to the hearsay rule set forth in Evidence Code section 1340,” Justice Kenneth Yegan said in his opinion for Div. Six.
About 80 pills wrested from inmate Jose Antonio Espinoza were examined by Regina Davidson, a criminalist at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Forensic Services Bureau, who utilized Ident-A-Drug. That website instructs the user to “type in the code that you see on the pill,” and says information will be provided as to “the ingredient and strength, the brand name (or equivalent), and the manufacturer,” as well as other information.
Davidson determined that the pills were methadone and clonazepam.
“Davidson stated that Ident-A-Drug is an authoritative reference, similar to the Physicians’ Desk Reference and Drugs.com, and it is commonly used by experts in the field of forensic science. Davidson received special training in the use of Ident-A-Drug and explained how it helped her recognize the shape and marking on the pills. Where general background hearsay is concerned, the expert may testify about it so long as it is reliable and of a type generally relied upon by experts in the field.”
“There is no requirement that a chemical analysis be performed to identity a controlled substance.”
Approach to Cases
Under the heading, “Practical Wisdom With a Dose of Reality,” Yegan proceeded to provide insights into appellate court decisionmaking, saying:
“This and other criminal cases we decide compel us to offer a few observations about how we arrive at our decisions in criminal cases. Of course we follow the statutory and case law. We also apply common sense and practical wisdom. The facts here lead to the reasonable conclusion that appellant tried to smuggle restricted dangerous drugs into the county jail in his ‘butt.’ The pills were not a home cure for hemorrhoids. The evidence did not point to an innocent explanation for appellant’s conduct. He did not offer a defense to the charges at trial nor did he have to. The prosecution was required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no ‘black letter’ rule requiring a chemical analysis of pills to prove that they are restricted prescription drugs.…What cannot be disputed is that appellant, a recidivist, attempted to smuggle drugs into the county jail. The manner in which the crime was committed is persuasive evidence from which the jury could draw the inference that these pills were the real thing.”
Yegan added that Espinoza has made no claim that the pills were not methadone and clonazepam.
The jurist continued:
“For the sake of discussion, let us assume we reverse the judgment. On retrial, a chemical analysis in all likelihood would be performed by the sheriff’s crime lab. Perhaps the pills could be sent to the FBI laboratory at Quantico Virginia for an analysis. Practical wisdom and common sense lead to the reasonable inference on appeal that appellant knew the drugs were real and that he acted with criminal intent when he brought the pills into the county jail.”
Yegan quoted the Court of Appeal’s 1984 decision in People v. Zack, which he authored, as saying:
“A trial is a search for the truth.”
He added, in yesterday’s opinion:
“A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect one. Here he had a fair trial.”
The case is People v. Espinoza, 2018 S.O.S. 2306.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company