Weighing stuff is pretty simple, right? Just put stuff on a scale, watch for a number to pop up on the screen, and bam–you’ve got a weight. When it comes to weighing drugs in a drug trafficking case, it’s not so simple. Everyone has watched the crime show de jour, and been dazzled by the high tech gadgets highly paid actors use to find evidence. Unfortunately, real life is not as high tech. Unfortunately, real life government crime fighters are not always as thorough as their show biz counterparts.
Our real life crime drama comes from the case of Jackson v. State, 76 So.3d 1130 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). Jackson was convicted of trafficking in cocaine greater than 200 grams, but less than 400 grams, and possession of cannabis. For those of you keeping score at home, this charge carries a minimum mandatory prison term of 7 years, and a minimum fine of $100,000. Even though the charge carried a minimum of 7 years, the judge gave Jackson 15 years on the trafficking (and time served on the possession of cannabis…gee, how merciful…).
Jackson’s troubles began after a search warrant was served on his house, and eight baggies of cocaine were recovered. The lab analyst testified at trial that she only tested one of the eight baggies, but she did testify that each of the eight baggies appeared to contain the same drug. Add to this evidence the fact that Jackson admitted to police that he usually has in his home “approximately a quarter kilogram of cocaine”, and that he “normally purchases a quarter kilogram of powder cocaine every two weeks”. Id. The court of appeals overturned his trafficking in cocaine greater than 200 grams, relying upon a previous court ruling that does not allow lab analysts to visually test drugs, finding that “a visual examination of untested packets of this weight is insufficient to convict because the white powder contained therein may be milk sugar or any one of a vast variety of other white powdery chemical compounds not containing cocaine. Moreover, the fact that one or two packets containing cocaine are found among other packets containing similar-looking white powder is no assurance that the latter untested packets also contain cocaine in view of (1) the vast number of other chemical compounds which have a similar white powdery appearance, and (2) the fact that the material in the untested packets was not commingled with the material in the tested packets.” Id at 1132, quoting Ross v. State, 528 So.2d 1237 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988).
Sure, Jackson was still found guilty of the weight of the baggie which was tested, and that amount turned out to be a trafficking over 28 grams, but less than 200 grams. Such a charge carries a 3 year minimum mandatory rather than 7 years. Not a complete reversal in this case, but 3 years sure beats 15 years. The deeper question is whether such decisions can ever spill over into trafficking in oxycodone cases, where citizens are caught with numerous “Watson 540” pills (for example), yet only one of the pills is actually tested. So far, our courts have been unwilling to force the government to examine each and every pill involved in a trafficking charge. Oh well, we can always hope….