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The People v. Richie Quang Le

August 29, 2011

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHIE QUANG LE, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Laura F. Priver, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. GA074027)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Boren, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed.

A jury convicted appellant Richie Quang Le of one count of transportation for sale and one count of possession for sale of a controlled substance in violation of Health and Safety Code sections 11379, subdivision (a) and 11378,*fn1 respectively (counts 1, 2). The jury found that the crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang within the meaning of Penal Code section186.22, subdivision (b)(1)(A).

The trial court sentenced appellant to a total of seven years in state prison and stayed the sentence in count 2 pursuant to Penal Code section 654. The trial court suspended execution of sentence and placed appellant on formal probation for three years on terms and conditions of probation, including the term that he serve one year in county jail.

Appellant appeals on the grounds that: (1) the convictions in counts 1 and 2 must be reversed for insufficiency of the evidence because the prosecution failed to prove that MDMA is a controlled substance and that appellant knew it to be a controlled substance; (2) the true findings on the gang allegations in counts 1 and 2 must be reversed for insufficiency of the evidence; and (3) one of appellant's probation conditions is unconstitutionally overbroad.

FACTS

Evidence

Deputy Sheriff Thomas Yu and his partner, Deputy Michael Smith, were on patrol on June 27, 2008, at about 4:00 a.m. when they saw a black Lexus with no rear license plate. They conducted a traffic stop of the car while it was parked in a gas station. As Deputy Smith made contact with the passenger, Khanah Nguyen, Deputy Yu approached the driver of the car, later identified as appellant. Appellant had already exited the car, and Deputy Yu asked him if he had a California driver's license. Appellant handed over a California identification card. Deputy Yu also asked for proof of insurance and registration for the car, but appellant did not provide it. Deputy Yu checked the data system in the patrol car and ascertained that appellant's license was suspended. The Lexus was registered to Charles Le, who appellant claimed was his uncle.

Deputy Yu decided to impound the Lexus because neither appellant nor the passenger could drive it, and the deputies wished to avoid liability for the car. Deputy Smith conducted an inventory search of the car and found a backpack in the rear seat. He handed it to Deputy Yu, who opened it. Inside was a large Ziploc baggie containing 407 orange Ecstasy pills. The parties stipulated that two of the pills were tested and found to contain 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, also known as "MDMA." The pills were booked into evidence.

Deputy Susana Rodriguez was working as a Temple Station narcotics detective on the night of the traffic stop, and she interviewed appellant. When Deputy Rodriguez asked appellant if the backpack in the car belonged to him, appellant replied, "I guess." Appellant then admitted that all the items in the car belonged to him. Appellant stated he did not want to talk about the pills.

Deputy Yu had expertise in the possession and packaging of drugs for sales and had testified as a drug sales expert more than 25 times. Approximately 50 of his cases had involved Ecstasy, which was also known as methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA. Deputy Yu found a large amount of money in appellant's pocket. It was later determined that the money totaled $6,123.60, in the following denominations: 3 one-dollar bills, 36 five-dollar bills, 44 ten-dollar bills, 170 twenty-dollar bills, and 21 one hundred-dollar bills. Deputy Yu stated that a large amount of cash in these denominations was consistent with the purchase of half of a "boat" of Ecstasy, or 500 pills. It was also consistent with the possession of money used to make change by someone transporting or selling narcotics. Deputy Yu believed that the packaging of the pills in a single large baggie was consistent with a wholesale purchase. It indicated that the person possessing the pills was transporting them to sell to individuals. A quantity of 407 pills was too large for personal use. When given a hypothetical based on the facts of this case, Deputy Yu was of the opinion that the pills were possessed for sale.

The prosecution also presented expert testimony of a detective relating to the gang allegations. The defense ...


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