Florida Court Rules that Liquid By-Product Counts in Meth Trafficking Case

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It’s well-established that the quantity of a controlled substance affects the sentencing of a person accused of a Florida drug crime. For instance, Florida Statute Section 893.135(1)(f) establishes tiers of increasingly severe minimum sentences and fines for meth trafficking, based on the quantity of meth discovered. In a recent Florida court decision, the defendant was convicted under the felony meth trafficking statute; however, on appeal, the court was asked to consider whether a liquid by-product created in the manufacture of meth should be included in the total calculation of the quantity of meth manufactured by the defendant.

Four deputies with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office arrested the defendant after a shootout, which killed one of the deputies. In a search of the residence, the deputies found instruments indicative of a meth lab. The collected items included items with a total weight of approximately one gram of meth at various stages of the production process, in addition to a vase containing 26.2 grams of a liquid by-product left over from the manufacturing process. The liquid by-product was toxic, but it only contained a trace amount of meth (less than 1%). There was testimony at trial that the liquid could be reused to manufacture additional meth. Based on the weight of the meth, plus the liquid by-product, the defendant was convicted under the felony meth trafficking statute, along with other crimes. Specifically, the meth trafficking statute provides that quantities of meth of 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, carry with them a minimum sentence of three years and a fine of $50,000.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the 26.2 grams of liquid by-product should not have been included in the total weight of the meth. The defendant conceded that the mixture contained trace amounts of meth, but it was not a consumable or marketable mixture. The defendant relied on an argument discussed in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Chapman v. United States, 500 U.S. 453 (1991). The defendant argued that the weight of any unmarketable portion of a mixture should be excluded from the weight of the controlled substance. However, the Supreme Court did not adopt the defendant’s position in Chapman. Instead, the Court ultimately adopted the “market-oriented” approach, under which the total quantity of what is distributed, rather than the amount of the pure drug involved, is used to determine the length of the sentence.

The Florida appeals court interpreted the Florida meth trafficking statute similarly to the Chapman decision. In the court’s view, the Florida statute’s plain language showed that the trafficking offense applied to any mixture containing meth, in addition to more unadulterated forms of the drug.

If you are charged with any type of meth crime in Tampa, it is important to call Will Hanlon and bring him on board as soon as possible to get results. He has dealt with numerous drug crime charges, including some specifically dealing with crystal meth. Don’t take an unnecessary chance on your future. Call Will Hanlon at Hanlon Law at 813-228-7095 as soon as possible if you’ve been arrested or questioned by law enforcement.

Karelj (Own work) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.