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Law School Case Brief

People v. Sanchez - 63 Cal. 4th 665, 204 Cal. Rptr. 3d 102, 374 P.3d 320 (2016)


Gang experts, like all others, can rely on background information accepted in their field of expertise under the traditional latitude given by the Evidence Code. They can rely on information within their personal knowledge, and they can give an opinion based on a hypothetical including case-specific facts that are properly proven. They may also rely on nontestimonial hearsay properly admitted under a statutory hearsay exception. What they cannot do is present, as facts, the content of testimonial hearsay statements. The Confrontation Clause is concerned solely with hearsay statements that are testimonial, in that they are out-of-court analogs, in purpose and form, of the testimony given by witnesses at trial. Thus, only when a prosecution expert relies upon, and relates as true, a testimonial statement would the fact asserted as true have to be independently proven to satisfy U.S. Const., 6th Amend. 


Defendant Marcos Arturo Sanchez was charged of possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of drugs while armed with a loaded firearm, active participation in a street gang, and commission of a felony for the benefit of the gang. Santa Ana Police Detective David Stow testified for the prosecution as a gang expert. He had been a gang suppression officer for 17 of his 24 years on the force. His experience included investigating gang-related crime; interacting with gang members, as well as their relatives; and talking to other community members who may have information about gangs and their impact on the areas where they operate. As part of his duties, Stow read reports about gang investigations; reviewed court records relating to gang prosecutions; read jail letters; and became acquainted with gang symbols, colors, and art work. He had received over 100 hours of formal training in gang recognition and subcultures, offered by various law-enforcement agencies in Southern California and around the nation. He had been involved in over 500 gang-related investigations. On cross-examination, Stow admitted he had never met Sanchez. He was not present when Sanchez was given the STEP notice, or during any of d Sanchez’s other police contacts. Stow's knowledge of the two shootings, as well as the 2009 garage incident, was derived from police reports. His knowledge of the December 4, 2009, contact was based on the FI card. Stow clarified that an officer may fill out an FI card or issue a STEP notice to someone not engaged in any crime or suspicious behavior. The jury convicted Sanchez as charged. The Court of Appeal reversed the conviction for active gang participation, but otherwise affirmed the judgment.


Did Stow’s testimony regarding Sanchez’ five prior police contacts, which he learned about through police reports and presented as true statements of fact without independent proof, violate the Confrontation Clause?




Statements that an expert relied on to opine on defendant's gang membership were hearsay; when an expert relates case-specific out-of-court statements and treats the content of those statements as true and accurate to support expert's opinion, it cannot logically be maintained that the statements are not being admitted for their truth, and if the expert seeks to relate testimonial hearsay, there is a potential Confrontation Clause violation (disapproving contrary case law). The Confrontation Clause was violated by Stow’s testimony about Sanchez’ five prior police contacts, which Stow learned about through police reports and presented as true statements of fact without independent proof; the statements were testimonial because the reports were compiled during police investigation of the completed crimes.

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