California Appeals Court Considers Conviction for Possession of Methamphetamine-Infused Paper

In a recent California appellate decision, the court considered whether a conviction could stand against a defendant who was charged with the possession of methamphetamine-infused paper in prison. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was an inmate at a state prison in California. A correctional officer found eight small pieces of numbered paper, along with a greeting card inside the defendant’s cell. The officer had heard from other officers that inmates were recently obtaining methamphetamine-infused paper in prison.

The officer had a preliminary test done at the prison which showed the presence of methamphetamine on a corner of the greeting card and on one piece of paper. Further testing at a lab showed that the remainder of the greeting card was negative, but that some of the papers contained methamphetamine. The defendant was charged with and found guilty of possession of methamphetamine while in prison, in violation of Penal Code section 4573.6, and sentenced to six years in prison. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed a usable amount of methamphetamine and that he knew the substance was methamphetamine.

Under section 4573.6 of the California Penal Code, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully exercised control over a controlled substance; knew of the substance’s presence; knew that the substance was a controlled substance; and possessed the substance in a sufficient amount so as to be used as a controlled substance. Under California case law, a usable amount is defined as a quantity sufficient “to be used by someone as a controlled substance,” which “does not have to be enough in either amount or strength to [a]ffect the user,” but cannot be “useless traces or debris.”

The court found the evidence supported the defendant’s conviction. In this case, the officer testified that the methamphetamine could be used in its current form, based on the training he received, because inmates could place the paper in their mouth and dissolve the methamphetamine that was on the paper. The court found that the officer was qualified to give such testimony, because he had experience and training on the recognition of methamphetamine, and the methods inmates used to bring it in the prison.

In addition, the court found there was sufficient evidence that the defendant knew there was methamphetamine on the papers. The court relied on the officer’s testimony that the defendant “looked guilty” when the officer found the paper. Also, the defendant did not have an immediate explanation for possessing the cut-up pieces of paper, and had a history of methamphetamine use. The court explained that although the jury could have interpreted the evidence differently, that does not warrant a reversal of the jury’s conclusion. For these reasons, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

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