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People v. Davis

Supreme Court of California

July 25, 2013

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
ZACHARY EDWARD DAVIS, Defendant and Appellant.

Superior Los Angeles County Nos. BA367204, Ct.App. 2/4 B229615 Barbara R. Johnson

Carla Castillo, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and John Raphling, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C. Hamanaka and Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorneys General, Lawrence M. Daniels, Scott A. Taryle and Stacy S. Schwartz, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion): Carla Castillo, Stacy S. Schwartz Deputy Attorney General.

CORRIGAN, J.

The question presented here is the sufficiency of the evidence to prove a given material is a controlled substance regulated by the Health and Safety Code. Specifically, may a jury properly infer that 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is controlled based solely on its chemical name, when that substance is not listed in the code? We conclude that evidence of MDMA’s chemical name, standing alone, is insufficient to prove the material is a controlled substance.

I. BACKGROUND

At a rave party in Los Angeles on December 31, 2009, defendant Zachary Edward Davis sold undercover police officer Romeo Rubalcava two blue pills for $20. Defendant was arrested along with a second man he consulted during the transaction. As officers approached, the second man discarded a clear plastic bag containing 19 additional blue pills. Defendant was charged with sale and possession for sale of a controlled substance. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11379, subd. (a), 11378.)[1]

At trial, a criminalist testified that he tested the two pills defendant sold and a representative sample of the 19 discarded pills. The two pills and the sample contained “M.D.M.A. or Ecstasy.” The criminalist did not elaborate on the chemical composition of the drug. His lab report, which was admitted in evidence, identified the pills as 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Officer Rubalcava described Ecstasy as a party drug, the effects of which can last up to 24 hours. He did not further explain its effects on the user. In closing, the prosecutor argued that the jury had to find the substance defendant possessed and sold was “Ecstasy.” The jury instructions and verdict forms on both counts referred to the controlled substance at issue as “Methylenedioxymethamphetamine” and “Ecstasy.”

The jury convicted defendant of sale and simple possession of a controlled substance (§ 11377). The trial court ordered that defendant serve 90 days in the county jail as a condition of three years’ probation.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. It held that sufficient evidence supported defendant’s convictions even though there was “neither a stipulation nor expert testimony showing that MDMA meets the definition of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog.” It took judicial notice of scientific treatises to draw conclusions about MDMA’s chemical composition and its relationship to methamphetamine. It further reasoned as a matter of “common sense” that MDMA’s chemical name, which includes the term “ ‘methamphetamine’ ” and does “not includ[e] any suffix or term negating the inference (e.g., ‘pseudo’), ” supported the inference that the pills defendant sold to Officer Rubalcava contained some quantity of methamphetamine or amphetamine.[2]

II. DISCUSSION

“[The] Fifth Amendment right to due process and Sixth Amendment right to jury trial... require the prosecution to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt every element of a crime.” (People v. Sengpadychith (2001) 26 Cal.4th 316, 324, italics omitted.) “In reviewing a sufficiency of evidence challenge, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” (People v. Gonzalez (2012) 54 Cal.4th 643, 653.)

The Health and Safety Code lists the various substances it controls in five extensive schedules. (§§ 11054-11058.) The listings include “official, common, usual, chemical, [and] trade name[s].” (§ 11053.) The code also regulates ...


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