In People v. Valencia, the Supreme Court today holds that prior offenses that are prerequisites to imposing certain sentence enhancements for gang activities “must be proven by independently admissible evidence.”  The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan concludes that “testimony of an expert who has no personal knowledge” of the pertinent facts is not enough.  The expert in the case — a police officer — knew of prior offenses by members of the defendants’ gang only “from conversations with other officers and a review of police reports.”

The court applies its previous opinion in People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665, also authored by Justice Corrigan, that disapproved a line of its previous decisions on experts and hearsay, holding the Sixth Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36, precluded a prosecution expert from relating “case-specific statements . . . concerning [the] defendant’s gang membership.”  (See here).

When it comes to hearsay testimony, today’s opinion explains, “experts are given latitude over lay witnesses only to the extent they are conveying acquired expertise in their field.”

On the other hand, the court says that reliable and accurate expert hearsay testimony is permitted about “background information,” such as “a gang’s behavior, history, territory, and general operations” and “the gang’s name, symbols, and colors.”

The court affirms the Fifth District Court of Appeal, both in Valencia and in the consolidated People v. Garcia case.  It also disapproves 2020 and 2018 Third District opinions, 2018 and 2016 Second District, Division Eight, opinions, and a 2017 First District, Division One, opinion.