In affirming conviction, justices clarify required meth evidence

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Authorities improperly charged a man with meth manufacturing based on the volume of an intermediate mixture, but other evidence was sufficient to affirm his conviction of Class A felony manufacturing methamphetamine, the Indiana Supreme Court held Thursday.

Justices clarified the evidence required for conviction of the highest degree felony under the statute, which requires possession of at least three grams of “adulterated” meth. Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote an opinion clarifying the ambiguous language: “We construe ‘adulterated’ methamphetamine as a final product, not the total weight of an intermediate mixture still undergoing reaction.”

This issue arose in Joseph K. Buelna v. State of Indiana, 20S04-1404-CR-243. An Elkhart Superior Court jury convicted Buelna and imposed a 50-year sentence with 30 years executed. Rush wrote for the unanimous court that imposing the highest-level punishment for manufacturing meth requires the state to demonstrate how much pure or “adulterated” meth an intermediate mixture would ultimately yield.

“Here, the State improperly relied upon the weight of an intermediate mixture to support the enhancement (from a Class B to Class A felony) without proof of how much final product it would have yielded,” Rush wrote. “Yet the testimony of Buelna’s co-manufacturer and their mutual friend sufficiently established that Buelna manufactured well over three grams of additional methamphetamine. We therefore affirm Buelna’s conviction.”

Justices also used the opinion to put perspective on the state’s meth scourge.  

“Methamphetamine is a poison that destroys the individuals who use it and harms the communities in which they live. Last year, our State had the highest rate of methamphetamine laboratory seizures in the entire nation,” Rush wrote.

“That statistic memorializes the seriousness with which authorities have responded to this plague and soberly reminds us how pervasive methamphetamine manufacture has become. Our General Assembly has appropriately mandated that those who manufacture more ‘pure or adulterated’ methamphetamine should be punished more severely than those who manufacture less,” the court stated in prefacing its guidance for law enforcement.


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