Stark Raving Mad? Cal Court Says Ecstasy Not Controlled Substance

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 08, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Drug conviction appeals can be monotonous. They're always full of "it wasn't mine" and "illegal search and seizure."

That's why Jean Ballantine, the court-appointed attorney in People v. Richie Quang Le, wins our newly-created - and unlikely to be again bestowed - FindLaw Defense of the Week award for her zealous challenge of her client's Ecstasy possession conviction.

A jury convicted Ballantine's client, Richie Quang Le, of one count of transportation for sale and one count of possession for sale of a controlled substance in violation of California law. The trial court sentenced Le to seven years in state prison.

Le was caught with every raver's favorite drug, MDMA, better known by the street name Ecstasy, during a routine traffic stop. We're not talking about a few pills here, either; police officers found a backpack in Le's car with 407 Ecstasy pills. They also found $6,123.60 cents in Le's pocket, which a drug-expert detective claimed was an amount consistent with the purchase of a 500-pill "boat" of Ecstasy or making change for narcotics sales. (Who knew that drug dealers were so conscientious about making correct change?)

Your average attorney may just run with the tried-and-true challenge-the-search strategy, but Jean Ballantine is not your average attorney. Ballantine, instead, had the chutzpah to argue that Ecstasy isn't a controlled substance under state law, so an Ecstasy possession verdict is invalid.

We're not part of the rave culture, but we once watched an episode of Dawson's Creek in which the whole Capeside gang went to a rave and one of the doe-eyed girls tried Ecstasy. It seemed pretty illegal to us, but it turns out that California law is inconsistent with the social norms promoted on Dawson's Creek, and Ballantine was right.

Ballentine argued that there was no evidence that Ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, is a controlled substance, a controlled-substance analog, or that it contained amphetamine or methamphetamine. There was only the trial court's conclusion that it appeared to be an amphetamine, and no doctrine exists that allows a trial court to conclude that one chemical compound necessarily contains another chemical compound merely because their names are similar.

Due to the lack of evidence that MDMA is a controlled substance, the court reversed the conviction and barred the issue from rehearing based on double jeopardy.

Defense attorneys, raise a glow stick to Jean Ballentine for pointing out that Ecstasy is not a controlled substance under the California Health and Safety Code in People v. Richie Quang Le; that information could save your own client from jail time for Ecstasy possession.

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