Friday, June 13, 2003

Rules tightened on meth cases


Court: Guilt hinges on possession of all ingredients

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A defendant charged with manufacturing methamphetamine must have all the necessary equipment or ingredients, the Kentucky Supreme Court said in a split decision Thursday.

A defendant who possessed some but not all the equipment or chemicals used in making the illegal drug could be prosecuted for criminal attempt, provided there was evidence of his intent, the court said.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Joseph Lambert said offenders would have to be caught "red-handed" under the majority interpretation, which he called "excessively technical."

The court ordered a new trial for Ronald Kotila, who was convicted in Pulaski County on a meth manufacturing charge in 1999.

Kotila had possession of many of the items needed for a meth lab, all of which are legal by themselves and commonly available: antihistamine tablets, lithium batteries, cans of starting fluid, glass jars, rock salt, a cooking pot and a wooden stirring spoon, among other things.

However, Kotila did not have two essential ingredients - anhydrous ammonia and muriatic acid.

And the pertinent Kentucky statute specifies that a suspect must possess "the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of methamphetamine."

"The presence of the article 'the' is significant because, grammatically speaking, possession of some but not all of the chemicals or equipment does not satisfy the statutory language," the court said in an unsigned opinion.

In a partial dissent, Lambert predicted that prosecuting meth manufacturing cases will become nearly impossible.

A suspect "with the least amount of ingenuity will be able to prevent his conviction by merely omitting from his cache of tools and ingredients one or two of the more common, and bringing in the missing components only at the last moment," Lambert wrote.

"Thus to achieve a conviction ... it will be necessary to catch the offender 'red-handed.' "




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