The South Carolina Supreme Court just decided a very interesting case. The full opinion may be read here.
In The State v. Charles Allen Cain, filed January 5, 2016, the Court reversed the conviction of Mr. Cain. A jury had convicted him of the offense of trafficking in methamphetamine which requires proof of possession of at least ten (10) grams of meth.
At Cain’s arrest, officers found no drugs. What was found at the scene was empty packages of Sudafed, which once contained 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine. Under our applicable trafficking law, attempts to manufacture meth is included. However, a minimal weight of ten grams is an element that must be proven by the State.
At trial, the judge allowed testimony by a Sheriff’s Department forensic chemist into evidence. Deputy Stuart testified that she calculated 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine could theoretically produce 17.67 grams of crystal meth if the defendant used maximum efficiency in the process. The method she used to offer this opinion was application of a theory based upon quantitative relationships involving substances and their reactions in laboratory conditions at maximum efficiency.
Cain’s appellate lawyers argued that without evidence showing Cain could actually have produced ten grams or more of meth with what the officers found at his disposal, a directed verdict of not guilty should have been rendered by the trial judge.
In reversing Cain’s conviction, the Supreme Court addressed legal considerations that we at Kulp & Elliott consider to be fundamental to any citizen’s right to a fair trial — a core element of our cherished freedom. The court voted 5-0.
Citing clear precedent, Justice Few, writing the opinion rendered by the Court, highlighted decision of previously decided appellate decisions:
“The State may not obtain a conviction when its proof as to any one element requires the jury to speculate or guess whether the defendant engaged in the conduct the legislature sought to criminalize.“
“The motion for directed verdict (of not guilty) should be granted where evidence…is such as to permit the jury to merely conjecture or speculate.“
“Suspicion, however strong, does not suffice to sustain a conviction.“
The Supreme Court held that the chemist’s testimony at trial left the jury “in a position of having to speculate as to Cain’s efficiency at making methamphetamine, and therefore having to guess at how much of the drug he attempted to manufacture.”
No jury should be allowed to guess a verdict.
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