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Judges disagree on chemical possession charge

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeal judges disagreed as to whether a defendant who stole anhydrous ammonia with the intent of selling it to a third party in the future to make methamphetamine, but who never actually sold the chemical, could be charged with possession with intent to manufacture methamphetamine.

The majority of judges said no and affirmed the trial court grant of Dustin Prater's motion to correct error and vacation his conviction of illegal possession of anhydrous ammonia in State of Indiana v. Dustin Prater, No. 08A02-0904-CR-309. Judge Cale Bradford dissented because he believed anyone who possess the chemical for purposes of manufacturing methamphetamine, even if they intend for someone else to make it, is covered under Indiana Code Section 35-48-4-14.5(c).

I.C. Section 35-48-4-14.5(c) requires an individual in possession of anhydrous ammonia have the personal "intent to manufacture methamphetamine or amphetamine" in order to commit a Class D felony under that statute. Prater was charged and convicted under this statute.

The majority read the statute to mean the person who possesses the chemical must also personally have the intent to use the anhydrous ammonia to manufacture methamphetamine to be charged under subsection (c).

"Here, it is clear that the General Assembly sought a balance between not subjecting citizens who merely possess anhydrous ammonia to possible prosecution while, at the same time, seeking to prohibit the nefarious uses of that chemical," wrote Judge Edward Najam for the majority.

The majority found their reading of subsection (c) to be supported by subsection (g) of the statute, which says it is not the mere possession of the chemical that is criminal but the sale, transfer, distribution, or furnishing of it to another person with the knowledge or intent that the recipient will use the chemical "regent or precursor to manufacture" methamphetamine.

If the General Assembly had intended that mere possession of anhydrous ammonia is a crime, it wouldn't have included the words "with the intent to manufacture" in the statute, wrote Judge Najam. The General Assembly could have included the language "intend to," but did not.

Judge Bradford wrote in his dissent that he couldn't conclude that a person whose task it is to collect the chemical to make methamphetamine is somehow immunized from criminal liability if he doesn't personally involve himself in the manufacturing process.

"Given the obvious intent of the General Assembly to criminalize both the possession and the sale or transfer of ammonia for methamphetamine purposes, I am unwilling to permit Prater's actions to fall through the cracks," he wrote.

Judge Bradford would reverse the grant of Prater's motion to correct error and the vacation of his sentence.

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