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.”