Heard January 7, 2015.
Appeal From Spartanburg County R. Lawton McIntosh, Circuit Court Judge.
Thomas James Rode, of Thurmond Kirchner Timbes & Yelverton, P.A., of Charleston, and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Michael Dudek, of Columbia, for Appellant.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Assistant Deputy Attorney General David A. Spencer, both of Columbia, for Respondent.
Charles Allen Cain appeals his conviction for trafficking methamphetamine, arguing the circuit court erred in (1) admitting testimony from the State's forensic chemistry expert regarding the "theoretical yield" of methamphetamine he could have produced and (2) denying his motion for a directed verdict. We affirm.
On January 17, 2012, Deputy Kevan Kyle and Deputy Chris Wilbanks, both of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office (the Sheriff's Office), encountered Cain and Tiphani Parkhurst while attempting to serve a family court bench warrant for Travis Kirby at a Spartanburg County home. Although the house had no running water or electricity, it appeared Cain and Parkhurst were illegally obtaining both through a drop cord and a hose pipe running from a neighboring trailer. Further, the house appeared to be under construction.
The deputies knocked on the backdoor of the house-which led to a single bedroom-because they saw a vehicle parked directly in front of that door. When Cain and Parkhurst came to the door, the deputies explained they were looking for Kirby and requested identification. Cain and Parkhurst produced their driver's licenses but denied knowing Kirby. They also told Deputy Kyle they were "renting the bedroom from the owner of the house . . . and they had nothing else to do with the rest of the house." While it appeared Cain and Parkhurst had been living in the bedroom, which had no bathroom or kitchen, the deputies believed they had access to the rest of the house as well. Deputy Kyle further believed Cain and Parkhurst were hiding Kirby because they seemed nervous, were "making furtive gestures, " and did not want him to look inside the rest of the house.
Deputy Kyle showed Cain and Parkhurst the bench warrant and explained the deputies had a right to search the house if they believed Kirby was inside. With the consent of Cain and Parkhurst, the deputies searched the bedroom as well as the rest of the house. During the search, Deputy Kyle observed a bottle resting on the counter that had "tubing coming from the top." The tubing ran through a window and opened up outside. He also discovered several discarded bottles with multicolored pellets, coffee filters, tin foil, and batteries in the living room-all of which are "common [for] a one pot meth lab." Based on the deputies' training and experience, they determined the house was being used as a lab to manufacture methamphetamine.
When the deputies returned to Cain and Parkhurst's bedroom, they found the interior door to the bedroom that led to the rest of the house was barricaded. Additionally, the deputies discovered Cain and Parkhurst had left the residence in Parkhurst's vehicle. The deputies further noticed what appeared to be the contents of a one pot meth lab-multicolored pellets poured out onto the grass and concrete. The pellets were still fresh and wet.
Thereafter, Cain and Parkhurst were indicted for trafficking methamphetamine in violation of section 44-53-375(C) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2014). The case was called for a jury trial in Spartanburg County. Because Cain and Parkhurst failed to appear at trial, they were jointly tried in their absence on February 28 and March 1, 2013.
During pretrial motions, Cain moved to dismiss his indictment, arguing the State could not establish the "attempt to manufacture" element for trafficking methamphetamine because no methamphetamine was found in the home. The State, however, sought to establish Cain's guilt "through extrapolation from the aggregate components" found in the house to demonstrate the yield of methamphetamine would have been more than the trafficking quantity, arguing the plain meaning of the statute allowed it to proceed under a theoretical yield theory. Based on this theoretical yield calculation, the State argued Cain and Parkhurst had the necessary ingredients to produce between ten and twenty-eight grams of methamphetamine.
Subsequently, the State called Beth Stuart to testify. Stuart, a forensic chemist with the Sheriff's Office, examined the crime scene on January 17, 2012. Per the State's request, the circuit court qualified Stuart as an expert in "forensic chemistry and chemical analysis" without objection.
Stuart explained that people often use common household products to manufacture methamphetamine. She then described the "one pot method" in great detail and stated Cain and Parkhurst employed this method to manufacture methamphetamine at the Spartanburg County home. According to Stuart, the Sheriff's Office photographed the components in and around the house-and a company specializing in the disposal of chemical waste came to the house to dispose of the meth lab components-because the components were too dangerous to bring back to the Sheriff's Office. She also said the Sheriff's Office does not fingerprint meth labs due to the inherent danger of the chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Moreover, Stuart testified that "the only thing of significance" she found inside the bedroom was a piece of aluminum foil shaped to smoke methamphetamine. In the living room, however, Stuart found twenty empty pseudoephedrine packets (blister packs) in trash bags, each of which previously contained twenty-four 30-milligram tablets. She found four additional blister packs in a trashcan outside Cain and Parkhurst's bedroom that each previously contained ten 120-milligram tablets of pseudoephedrine. Stuart concluded the blister packs previously contained a total of 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine. In addition to the empty blister packs, Stuart found the following items in and around the house: a bottle with tubing in the bathroom, instant cold packs, a plastic funnel, a roll of aluminum foil, face masks, coffee filters, wrappings from lithium batteries, needles, several "one pot" bottles, and the "pink solid" dumped out of a "one pot."
To calculate the theoretical yield, Stuart explained she "can see how much starting stuff they had and work [her] way to how much product they could [have] made with that starting stuff." She further stated she uses "the weights of all the different compounds in [an equation] to determine theoretical yield." The State then asked Stuart how much methamphetamine an individual could make with 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine. Cain objected to the admission of this testimony, questioning its reliability and doubting whether "some learned treatise" supported the theory. Cain argued Stuart's theoretical yield testimony was outside the scope of her qualification as an expert in forensic chemistry. The circuit court overruled the objection subject to the State laying a proper foundation.
The State then established that-as part of earning her bachelor's degree as well as her master's in chemistry-Stuart worked in "actual research settings" with equations and theoretical yields "to determine how much product [she] wanted and how much [she] needed to start with" to perform reactions. On voir dire, Stuart explained the theoretical yield equation was "pseudoephedrine, plus lithium, plus ammonia gas yields methamphetamine." She also stated she knew it is "a one-to-one molar ratio between pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine from the equations of how to make meth[amphetamine]." The circuit court then qualified Stuart as "an expert in the field of chemistry to be able to give her opinion in the area of theoretical yields."
After the additional qualification, Stuart testified that an individual could manufacture the following amounts of methamphetamine with 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine: 17.67 grams with a 100% yield, 14.13 grams with an 80% yield, 13.25 grams with a 75% yield, and 11.48 grams with a 65% yield. Stuart, however, acknowledged she had no way of determining the percentage yield Cain and Parkhurst theoretically would have been able to obtain. She also acknowledged that her figures were based on chemical conversions performed by a trained chemist using pure chemicals, a hood, and real glassware in "ideal laboratory conditions." Stuart agreed that, if some chemicals do not properly react and become wasted, it is not possible to attain a 100% yield. Moreover, she conceded that neither methamphetamine nor pseudoephedrine was found in or around the house.
Cain moved for a directed verdict after the State rested its case, arguing the evidence of custody and control of the requisite ingredients was insufficient to establish intent to traffic methamphetamine. The circuit court denied Cain's motion for a directed verdict on the custody and control argument but took under advisement the theoretical yield issue, electing to take it up at the close of all evidence.
Subsequently, the defense presented testimony from Leon Fowler Sr., who lived in the trailer located one hundred feet behind the house the deputies searched. Fowler explained that his son owned both the house and the trailer. Fowler further stated he thought Cain and Parkhurst were "living in that one [bed]room, " but he was not sure. He was also unsure about how long Cain and Parkhurst lived in the house, but said it was "not over two or three weeks." Fowler testified that he did not know Cain and Parkhurst; he just knew they were his son's friends. Nevertheless, he would let them come to his trailer to bathe and use the restroom because the house had no running water.
Although Fowler was not sure whether Cain and Parkhurst had a power cord running from his trailer to the house, Fowler said his son sometimes did "when he was working on the house." Fowler further stated it seemed like a power cord was hooked up when the police arrived, but he would not swear to it. Finally, Fowler confirmed he was unaware of the meth lab in the house, stating he did not want to know what was going on in the house.
At the close of all evidence, the circuit court denied Cain's motion to dismiss based on a "plain reading of the statute" and the "persuasive authority" provided by the State. The circuit court believed "theoretical yield would be an appropriate analysis in this case" and submitted a special interrogatory to the jury, instructing it to determine whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the theoretical yield was ten or more, but less than twenty-eight, grams.
The jury found Cain guilty of trafficking methamphetamine, and the circuit court denied his motion for a new trial. On April 11, 2013, Cain was sentenced to ...