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Unreliable evidence weighing reduces Elkhart meth dealing conviction

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Elkhart County prosecutors and state witnesses used dubious methods to weigh methamphetamine during a trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday. The court reversed a man’s Class A felony conviction and ordered the court to resentence him on a lesser charge.

In Eldon E. Harmon v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1110-CR-529, the court ruled that imprecise measurements of “cooked” meth powder and the weight of liquid precursors to the drug were insufficient for the conviction and 40-year sentence with 30 executed.

“The sole basis for elevating Harmon’s offense from a Class B felony to a Class A felony was the weight of the drug. That is, to support the elevation, the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Harmon manufactured at least three grams of methamphetamine,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote in a unanimous appeal that included a separate opinion from Judge Nancy Vaidik.

“Here, the State used an unreliable method to establish the weight element of the Class A felony offense. We acknowledge that, for reasons that are not readily apparent, the State Police Laboratory has a policy against weighing liquids. But there were other, scientific ways the State could have established the actual, measured weight of the samples of liquid methamphetamine base,” Mathias wrote.

The techniques involved a state trooper weighing meth against packets of artificial sweetener, and what Harmon in his appeal referred to as jurors permitted to act as “human scales.”

“This evidence was inadequate to establish the ‘actual, measured weight,’” the ruling said.

Vaidik wrote in a concurring opinion that more clarity is needed with determining the weight of meth and its precursors for charging purposes.

Measuring the final product is clear-cut, she wrote, but “issues arise, however, when the manufacturing process has not been completed
and the methamphetamine is still mixed in with liquid ingredients. Varying methods have been used to determine the actual weight of the methamphetamine produced in this situation.

“I find the method of measuring the weight of the methamphetamine and the liquid together to be inherently problematic and to require
ascertaining the legislative intent behind the manufacturing-of-methamphetamine statute. I conclude that the legislature did not intend for the liquid byproduct of the manufacturing process to be included in the measurement of the weight of methamphetamine involved.”

 

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