Possession of Methylenedioxymethamphetamine Case in California

In People v. Davis (2013) 57 Cal.4th 353, the defendant was charged with possession of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), a substance not specifically listed as a controlled substance. (Id. at pp. 356, 358.) The jury was only given the scientific name of MDMA and was not presented with any expert testimony as to whether MDMA met the definition of a controlled substance or analog. The defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds of insufficient evidence that MDMA was a controlled substance. On appeal, the appellate court took judicial notice of several scientific treatises offered by the People to show that MDMA was related to methamphetamine. Further, the appellate court stated that the name itself was enough to show that it was a controlled substance. (Id. at p. 357.) The California Supreme Court granted review. First, it noted that, "The jury may find that MDMA is a controlled substance or analog based on evidence of MDMA's chemical composition or its effects on the user. Here, as the Court of Appeal recognized, the record contains neither a stipulation nor testimony establishing that MDMA meets the definition of a controlled substance or analog." (Davis, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 359.) The Supreme Court continued, "While the Court of Appeal, having referred to outside sources, satisfied itself that the pills in question qualified as a controlled substance, those sources were not before the jury. All the jury had before it was a chemical name not listed in any schedule of the code. An appellate court cannot take judicial notice of additional facts the prosecution failed to prove at trial to affirm a conviction." (Davis, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 360.) The court also rejected that the jury could rely on common knowledge or common sense that MDMA contained methamphetamine because it was included in the scientific name. (Id. at p. 360.) The Supreme Court concluded, "Because it is not specifically listed in any schedule, evidence of MDMA's chemical name, standing alone, is insufficient to prove that it contains a controlled substance or meets the definition of an analog. 'The matter in issue is . . . not within the common knowledge of laymen.' Thus, it was incumbent on the People to introduce competent evidence or a stipulation about MDMA's chemical structure or effects. Without such evidence, there was no rational basis for a jury of laypersons to infer that 3,4--methylenedioxymethamphetamine contains methamphetamine or amphetamine, or that it has a substantially similar chemical structure or effect to methamphetamine or amphetamine. The Court of Appeal erred in concluding that sufficient evidence supported defendant's convictions for possession and sale of a controlled substance." (Davis, supra, 57 Cal.4th at pp. 361-362.)