Family Law

Family Law News 2017, Issue 2, Volume 39, No. 2

Expert Witness Testimony: What’s all the Hype over People v. Sanchez?

Melinda Sammis, Esq.

Melinda Sammis specializes in divorce litigation, mediation consultation, and the drafting of complex pre- and postmarital agreements. She is certified by the California State Bar as a Family Law Specialist and regularly acts as a Settlement Master, Attorney for the Day, and Judge Pro Tem for the San Francisco Superior Court. As an Advisor to the State Bar’s Executive Committee on Family Law (FLEXCOM), she is responsible for commenting on pending family law legislation in the State of California, including appearing in Sacramento to consult on changes to pending legislation. Ms. Sammis was a Member of FLEXCOM from 2013-2016 and served as Chair of the Education Committee.

Some family law attorneys say that People v. Sanchez, 63 Cal. 4th 665 (2016), is a game-changer. Others say it simply clarifies the law and is "much ado about nothing." Either way, the California Supreme Court has given us a bright line rule: when any expert relates to the jury case-specific, out-of-court statements, and treats the content of those statements as true and accurate to support the expert’s opinion, the statements are hearsay.

People v. Sanchez was a criminal case. The expert was a policeman with gang expertise but who had never met the Defendant, had not seen the Defendant’s past contacts with the police, and had no personal knowledge of such contacts. The issue was whether the expert’s description of the Defendant’s past contacts with police was inadmissible hearsay or non-hearsay because it was offered only as a basis for the expert’s opinion and not for its truth.

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