The internet is a powerful tool. It allows us to instantly look up the score of a game, figure out who was the 14th president of the US and find out how many miles away mars is. But is everything on the internet to be relied on? What if a police officer pulls a motorist over. The driver is asked to get out of the car. The officer says, “May I search you?” The driver answers, ” Of course officer.” During the search the officer finds numerous different pills in the driver’s pockets. He suspects the pills are controlled substances and decides to arrest the driver. When the case comes to court, can the prosecution expert rely on the internet to identify the pills as illegal? Doesn’t the crime lab have to do it’s scientific analysis? What can the prosecution expert rely on in stating his opinion?
You would think that under the rule stated in People v Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal. 4th 665, a very important California Supreme Court case, which basically held that experts can’t use testimonial hearsay in trial as the basis of their opinions, the internet couldn’t be used as the basis of their opinions. This issue would come up routinely in gang prosecutions where the police expert would testify that one of the bases of his opinion that a defendant was a gangster was interviews with other police officers in prior contacts with law enforcement. The court said that those prior statements were testimonial hearsay and couldn’t be used in court against the defendant. Well, if that’s the case, obviously statements on the internet are something that can’t be quoted…right? Wrong.
Recently in People v Espinosa 2018 D.A. R. 4531 decided May 14, 2018, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that an expert called by the prosecution could rely on Ident-A-Drug to presumptively identify the pills found in the above driver’s pockets as illegal. Ident-A-Drug is an internet drug reference compilation that is used by law enforcement and others to look at the pills pictured and compare them to the drugs found. Evidence Code section 1340 basically is how the hearsay objection was defeated. Evidence Code section 1340 says that if the compilation is “generally used and relied upon as accurate in the course of business” it’s admissible.
Now the rule apparently is, if it’s on the internet and it’s generally relied on as accurate, then look out because no more reliability need be shown. This is just plain wrong. The internet is a valuable tool but what’s on it shouldn’t be the basis of court testimony that can send someone to jail without showing the information is reliable. The defense has to keep objecting since so much of what is on the internet simply isn’t accurate or reliable enough to believe just because it’s out there on the internet.