Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 of Nueces County,
Justices Rodriguez, Longoria, and Hinojosa Opinion by Justice
LETICIA HINOJOSA JUSTICE.
Alma Amberson a/k/a Alma Saldana a/k/a Alma Ronje (Amberson)
appeals from a judgment convicting her for possession of less
than 28 grams of a substance in penalty group 3, a Class A
misdemeanor, see Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann.
§ 481.117(b) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.), and
sentencing her to thirty days' service in the SPURS
work-release program. In three issues, which we construe as
two, Amberson complains that (1) the trial court erred in
admitting hearsay evidence of drug identity based upon
drugs.com and the Drug Identification Bible 2014 to 2015
(Drug Bible) and that such error obligates us to render an
acquittal; and (2) even if such evidence is admissible, the
evidence of drug identity is legally insufficient to support
the jury's verdict. We reverse and remand.
criminal complaint charges Amberson with one count of driving
while intoxicated and one count of intentionally or knowingly
possessing a controlled substance, specifically clonazepam,
in an amount of less than 28 grams. Amberson pleaded not
guilty. The relevant testimony elicited during the
guilt/innocence phase of the case came from Allen McCollum, a
patrol officer with the Corpus Christi Police Department
(CCPD) and Pablo Hernandez, a CCPD patrol officer at the time
of Amberson's arrest, who had been promoted to detective
in the narcotics/vice division three months before trial.
testified that on the evening of March 27, 2014, he witnessed
a vehicle driven by Amberson commit a rolling stop. McCollum
followed Amberson's vehicle to the next intersection,
where Amberson and McCollum came to a stop at a red light.
When the traffic light turned green, McCollum observed that
Amberson's vehicle "stayed there for an extended
amount of time and then proceeded to cross through the
intersection." McCollum initiated a traffic stop and
radioed for an additional officer.
approaching the vehicle, McCollum noticed an open case of
beer in the front and individual beer cans in the center
console. McCollum recalled that Amberson's speech was
somewhat slurred. After two other police officers arrived,
McCollum asked Amberson to exit her vehicle so that he could
administer field sobriety tests. McCollum determined that
Amberson was driving while intoxicated based on her
performance of the field sobriety tests, and he arrested her.
Amberson refused to provide McCollum with a breath specimen.
assisted McCollum by conducting an inventory of
Amberson's vehicle. The State's questioning of
Hernandez prompted several objections by defense:
Q. And tell me more about the inventory of the vehicle?
A. During the inventory of the vehicle there was a purse on
the front passenger floorboard, and in fact, there was a pill
bottle, and I looked in the pill bottle. You know, normally
just to make sure it's the actual pills inside there, and
there was two different types of pills.
Q. Okay. Can you describe the pills?
A. There was a couple of pills that were white, rectangular,
and two that were just kind of circular and green.
Q. So what did you do after you discovered them?
A. With the markings on the pills I used the Drugs.com.
[Defense]: I'd object at this point, Your Honor, to
anything that an outside reference source said is hearsay.
State: The officer used the source to identify the drugs,
[Defense]: Which is hearsay, Your Honor.
State: The officer used the source to identify the drug.
Drugs.com is a recognizable site to identify drugs.
[Defense]: It's also hearsay, Your Honor.
Court: Well, it would be an exception if it's a learned
treatise. Is there anything that recognizes Drugs.com as a
[Defense]: I have some information on that, Your Honor. If
you'd like to conduct a bench conference, or if you'd
like me to voir dire the witness, or if you'd like the